Kid-Friendly Snacks in a SNAP

by Sarah on April 28, 2011 · 13 comments

If you look over on my sidebar, you might notice a new badge that officially declares my membership in the Austin Food Bloggers Alliance. I mentioned a few weeks ago that this group was forming to create more official platform for blogger education, celebration, and communication (both among ourselves and with local businesses) here in Austin. A huge piece of the celebration and community (or celebration of community) involves philanthropy, and the opportunity to use our blogs to help the city we love (for its food…and everything else!) This year’s first philanthropic event is a challenge from the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas to help bring more awareness to SNAP–the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (what y’all know better as “food stamps”).Through this Hunger Awareness Project, we hope to get the word out about resources in the community to help those in need be able to eat well, not only purchasing (or obtaining through food bank donations) healthy, nutritious foods, but having the knowledge of how to prepare it as well. To do this, the AFBA has been asked to create a number of recipes that might be utilized by the food bank in cooking classes throughout Austin.
As you know from reading my blog, I work with a population of students whose families could benefit greatly from the extra $16 a month that SNAP provides. Having told you many times over the fear I have for my kids not eating enough at home–or being able to eat at all without the school-provided breakfasts and lunches every day–I am personally invested in helping not only the students I teach, but others just like them (and their families as well) not only have healthy foods in their homes….but also want to eat them.

When I saw that there was a “big need” for ‘kid-friendly, vegetable-based snacks that require minimal, if any, cooking for K-12th grades’….well, y’all know that’s exactly where my creative culinary juices headed. [In fact, I received the information about the challenge in the morning, and thought about possible recipes constantly for the next 24 hours.]

I wanted to keep in mind a few things:

  1. What do kids like to eat? [This is a lot broader than people think, I have found.]
  2. What can be made that tastes good, without a lot of extra, costly spices that their families wouldn’t already have on hand, or be able to purchase inexpensively?
  3. What can be made with ingredients purchased well under the $16 in SNAP funds, or can be made solely from the food pantry supplemental ingredients?
  4. What required little cooking and no ‘special tools’ to prepare?
  5. What would kids like to make themselves?

Here are just three of the ideas I came up with. [Don't worry, this is just the "snack" category---there are more recipes to come :) ]

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My first recipe was inspired by the fact that I never understood how kids could like eating this….…but they do, proving that not only is cold pizza appealing to a wide variety of ages…kids will eat anything as long as they can put it together and eat it with their hands.

As soon as I saw ‘spaghetti sauce’ in the food pantry stock list, I knew what to do: Raw Squash Pizza! [Although, for the kids, we could just call 'em "Pizza Boats" or something.]Simply take raw zucchini and summer squash (super cheap when in season) and slice it lengthwise. Then, even the smallest child can spoon on either spaghetti sauce, or, as shown here, no-salt-added tomato sauce with a little Italian seasoning sprinkled in.
They can then top the pizzas with whatever cheese they like, or even some pepperoni or diced ham.Amazingly fun to eat with your fingers–I ate an entire squash and zucchini without even realizing it–and although you could make a similar snack with an English muffin or crackers (heated or not), this satisfies the ‘no cook’ and ‘veggie-based’ requests.

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Next, I got to thinking about how my kids inhale in equal measure Hot Cheetos and their Mexican counterparts: Takis.
Even I had to admit that there is just something about cirspy little cheese puffs that will never be healthfully (and satisfyingly) replicated. I knew I could make a less processed chip-like snack (hello, homemade pita chips), but could I take the idea of crunch, and spicy heat, with a little saltiness…and somehow make it vegetable-based?
Then I remembered something that my fellow blogger (and Austinite) Lindsay had made recently: homemade wasabi “pea”-nuts. I knew she would forgive me for—no, encourage me to continue–riffing on her idea: taking a can of food-pantry-staple sweet peas and baking them into crispy bites of spiced deliciousness.For my Spicy ‘Pea’-tos* or Spicy Ta-’peas’ (depending on whether you are going for convincing the kids that you are recreating Cheetos or Takis), you’ll need to take your can of peas, drain and rinse them (especially if they aren’t the no salt added variety).
*I like Pea-tos because it conjures up images of baby sweet peas waddling around with their grandmothers playing “This Little Piggy Went To Market” with their little baby pea-toes.
True, canned peas lack the joyfully bright green of their fresh or frozen counterpart, but they are inexpensive, and, anyway, you are about to totally change their constitution and coloring…so who cares? After patting the peas dry with a paper towel, add a liberal amount of chili powder (one of the least expensive spices, and one which I know my children of Hispanic heritage have in their homes) and a sprinkling of salt.You can do this directly in the colander. Trust me. Tossing these peas around would be a VERY fun job for a child. (Or an adult who sometimes acts like a child.) It’s like spin-art, really.Spread the peas out onto a cooking sheet, either coated with oil, cooking spray, or a sheet of aluminum foil.
Feel free to add more chili powder, or even some garlic powder, or another spice. You might be thinking, “Sarah, are you sure kids will eat something spicy?” Yes. Yes, they will. If they can handle Hot Cheetos they can handle this. Chili powder isn’t really all that spicy, anyway. I would be a little hesitant to add, say, red pepper flakes.

[Messy hands = successful kid recipe]

To get everything a little cheesy, I also added some grated Parmesan cheese. [I thought about using nutritional yeast, for it's faux cheese flavor, but nutritional yeast is not the most readily available of items...even though you can get it at Whole Foods, which does accept SNAP cards.]Bake at 375 degrees for about 30-40 minutes, stirring every few minutes. If you’re wondering why there isn’t an “after” picture…it’s because I ate them so fast there was no time for photography. :)

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Last, but certainly NOT least, is a recipe that kids will love…if only because it potentially gives them a chance to play with knives.

You see, I was daydreaming about my successful attempts at converting some of my students into hummus hooligans–the alliterative way of saying they were starting to like hummus :)and I began to wonder…Could I take this idea and give it a Mexican twist, honoring my kiddos own culture without needing any ‘fancy’ (and often expensive) ingredients like tahini? [Which, lets face it, I never use in my homemade hummus anyway.] Enter, the can of pinto beans.
Exit, De-Fried Bean Dip. [Please be careful not to say deep fried. That could get people set up a for a let down.]Rinse and drain the pinto beans and pour them into a large, shallow (or not…it doesn’t matter if it’s shallow if you aren’t photographing it) bowl or wide-brimmed plate.
Add a couple of a spoonfuls of plain yogurt (about 2-3 tablespoons), a pinch or two of brown sugar (2 tsp.), a sprinkling (1/2 tsp.) of salt, and a generous helping of both chili powder and cumin.Then, take a fork…and mash!Normally, this would be happening in a food processor, but since I was trying not to use anything not commonly found in a very limited kitchen (you’ll notice I didn’t even really measure anything), we should take this opportunity to work against childhood obesity by working those small children’s arm muscles.You can see that a knife can come in handy as well. This is also a great time to give a basic lesson on table etiquette: using your knife to scrape food onto your fork and the like.Eventually (and yes, before your arm falls off), you’ll get a nice, chunky, refried-bean like mash.Veggies taste great dipped in this (carrots, cucumbers, leftover raw squash from the ‘pizzas’ above, mushrooms, celery…etc. etc.), but you can also go ahead and eat it with chips…Even though you know I’d probably prefer just to eat it with a spoon. :)

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What’s your favorite kid-friendly snack?
(Or what was your favorite snack as a kid?)

Since many of y’all don’t live in Austin…are you aware of the resources in your city/town for those who are in need?

Do you have any inexpensive, healthy meals that are easy to prepare with little or no fancy equipment that I could try next?

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Alex@Spoonful of Sugar Free April 28, 2011 at 6:24 am

Ooooo! I like these ideas!! It is so hard to get kids it healthy foods, and I think part of the reason is they just don't know how. When we teach them and they like it, then of course they will make it! They will feel so proud of themselves for being independent (isn't that what all kids want to feel?)

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Brittany (A Healthy Slice of Life) April 28, 2011 at 7:41 am

De-fried bean dip is my favorite! Looks yummy :)

I think it's wonderful to create fun, healthy foods that kids want to eat. Even why they decided to rebrand baby carrots :)

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Tricia B April 28, 2011 at 8:19 am

How about baked, spiced, canned chickpeas? Those might besimilar to your green peas with a little more heft? Just throwing that out for your smart kitchen magic. You're doing a great thing with your talents. Great job Ms Smart!

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Maria @ Oh Healthy Day April 28, 2011 at 9:52 am

That bean dip is brilliant! I've been watching Food Revolution and I think Jamie would be so proud of you :)

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Jodi April 28, 2011 at 10:12 am

These are awesome ideas and what you did with the peas is just pure genius!

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austingastronomist.com April 28, 2011 at 10:21 am

This is so awesome! I love the squash boats. :)

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Mandy April 28, 2011 at 10:47 am

What a wonderful post! Love your snack ideas too!

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Travelbug April 28, 2011 at 11:02 am

I want a squash boat now please :)
Great post full of inventive wonderful ideas!

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Meri April 28, 2011 at 12:23 pm

This is so cool Sarah! I am 26 years old, and I totally want a squash pizza boat! What a cool project you're involved with, the Austin Bloggers Alliance.

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atastelife April 28, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Awesome is the only word I have at the moment.

I am currently doing taste tests in day cares with various fruits and veggies. It's amazing how many of the providers tell me "they won't eat that" and not 10 seconds later I have a kid eating a raw mushroom. Love! That's when I want to say "just keep your mouth shut." But I refrain, sometimes.
And there's so much need in my small town. I serve on several collaboratives and councils through my job and we're trying to get out that word that many of our farmers at the farmers market accept SNAP.
I just stress that small changes can make a HUGE difference.

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Leila @ Spinach and Skittles April 28, 2011 at 7:49 pm

I've never thought to make baked peas…I must investigate this.
I do love roasted chick peas though…
My favorite snack as a kid: triscuit pizzas. Mmmm, my brother and I still enjoy these, actually. My husband thinks we are gross. Triscuit topped with pizza sauce (or tomato sauce) and mozz. Melted for 30 seconds. I don't see what is so gross about that ;)

In my town we have the 2nd Harvest Food Bank. It gets donations from grocery stores, farms and businesses and then distributes them among community members in need. I work in a very low-income school and a few days before spring break they showed up with over 4,000 pounds of REAL food to distribute to the kids. They got oatmeal, potatoes, lettuce, apples, whole wheat bread and more! I was totes impressed. Then I found out the community center across the street has a summer farmer's market that offers 50% prices for their fruits and veggies to anyone with food stamps. Not too shabby.

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Optimista April 30, 2011 at 12:57 am

Oh my goodness, those spicy "pea"-tos look fantastic! I need to try that!

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Lele May 4, 2011 at 8:44 pm

Agh this is what I do ALL DAY. My site gets food bank food and we get the most bizarre stuff. Totally stealing your canned peas recipe! Genius! We get so many and they hate them!
In terms of what is successful for us, we're lucky to get a decent amount of fresh produce, and we tend to do "taste tests": "Hey guys! Which do you like better, raw broccoli or cooked?!"
They said roasted cauliflower tasted like popcorn. It was a smashing success.
I also used horrifying canned diced (?!) carrots to make carrot cake muffins, which they also adored.

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