One cruise down the “special diet” or heath food aisle of our ubiquitous supermarkets would lead you to believe that healthy, vegan snacking is just too expensive to be doable. Add to that the often non-recyclable and individual packaging and you can leave the store feeling both ripped off and guilty about your box or package of fill-in-the-blank.
It doesn't have to be that way. I promise you can feed your children, and yourself, healthy, vegan snacks for far less than you would spend in the grocery store, without spending all your time in the kitchen. (Unless you, like me, enjoy spending all your time in kitchen, in which case you can save even more!)
Part of the appeal of expensive snack convenience foods are that they come pre-packaged for you – easy to toss into a lunchbox and easy to keep tabs on serving sizes and nutrition. Invest in a few good storage containers and you can do this yourself. Many storage containers on the market today come with serving sizes imprinted right on them and they are reusable. Snug-fitting lids with cold packs enclosed allow you to pack dips and perishable foods.
Grow your pantry over a few weeks by picking up a spice you don’t have one week, agave nectar the next. Before you know it, your pantry will support many recipes without having to run to the store for out of stock items. This is your best defense against overspending on convenience snack foods. With the ingredients in the house, it’s that much easier to whip up two batches of home baked goodies, freezing one set for future snacking.
In addition to the fresh fruit and raw veggies you are probably already setting out, there are countless snack options that can be prepared and frozen or stored to be ready at a moment’s notice or to tuck into a lunch box.
First up, muffins: I can't say enough about versatile, yummy and inexpensive muffins! Muffins are kid-friendly AND nutritious. Endless variations include pumpkin, carrot, bran, oatmeal, banana, blueberry, strawberry, lemon, poppy seed, whole wheat, jam-filled; and if you're feeling naughty or festive, or both, chocolate chip or crumb cake - just to name a few. I highly recommend investing in a mini-muffin baking pan – it will pay for itself almost immediately. Mini-anything is highly appealing to children and muffins are no exception. Once muffins have been baked and cooled, they may be frozen. Pack a frozen mini-muffin in the lunchbox in the morning and it will be perfect to eat by lunchtime.
Popcorn may be the most inexpensive snack there is! At less than $2.00 for a 1lb bag of corn kernels & a smidgen of oil, you magically have enough food to feed several hungry kids many, many times. This is our standard snack along with some fruit after school. It’s fast, fun and always welcome. Popcorn, like nuts and other small foods, should only be given to older children, use your best judgment.
Seasonal fruits and vegetables. This may be a no-brainer, but sometimes even the most frugal of us need a reminder on the basics. Shop what is in season and you'll be rewarded with better tasting, less expensive fruits and vegetables. Served by themselves or alongside soy yogurt, salsas or bean dips, crispy, vegetables like baby carrots, celery sticks, sugar snap peas, jicama, red, yellow, green & orange peppers, cherry or grape tomatoes, mushrooms, endive, scallions, broccoli and cauliflower are vibrant and appealing. Fruit, cut or whole, provides welcome sweetness without the calories and dentist bills. Core an apple and fill the inside with nut or seed butters for an easy on the go snack that leaves nothing behind. Frozen bananas or grapes are great in the warmer weather and cut fruit on shish kebobs are fun both on the grill or fresh. For younger children, different shaped fruits can be arranged on a plate to make a face or other design.
Buy favorites like dried fruits, nuts and seeds in bulk when available and combine to make your own favorite trail mix combinations.
Soup can be a meal in itself, but it is also a terrific and highly nutritious and inexpensive- to- make snack. Soup is a great equalizer. It can take all your bits and pieces from your refrigerator and freezer and turn them into something people actually want to eat. It generally freezes and reheats well and on a chilly day, a thermos full of fragrant homemade soup will most certainly trump those sugary snacks at the school lunch table.
Leftovers. Until recently, I'd never properly embraced leftovers. The more I cook and favorite dishes begin to emerge, however, the more welcome leftovers become. A dollop of mashed potatoes and a few spoonfuls of a nut loaf with gravy will go a long way to stave off hunger until after karate or dance class. The same can be said about a few soy meat balls, falafel or a half serving of chili.
Beans are cheap! Dried, frozen or canned beans are exceedingly good for you as well as incredibly affordable and versatile. My local supermarket even has their own organic line of products and for beans are usually around 89 cents per can. With so many varieties, even the pickiest eater is bound to find one or two they like. For snacking, both my boys love edamame, blanched and sprinkled with salt – no fuss. Garbanzo beans are also a huge favorite, both whole and unadorned or smashed into a hummus served with pita bread or chips.
Homemade mini bagels can be spread with nut butters and jam or topped with fresh fruit. Mini-pita bread pockets can be stuffed with hummus and shredded carrots, cucumbers, lettuce and more.
Think party appetizers for inspiration. If you like to be fancy (and I do!) this can be a lot of fun. I'm positive that presentation goes a long way in piquing a child’s interest in a food. Put a spin on traditional sandwiches by rolling them and cutting them into circles. One small lettuce leaf can be a vessel for beans or dips and once again utilize leftovers if you have them around. Even small homemade vegan pierogis and raviolis are foods that can be eaten as a snack with an appetizer fork or toothpick. Keep servings small and individual to encourage healthy eating habits.
Don’t forget your coupons! I’ve been a vegetarian for about 26 years and shopping for vegetarian and vegan items have certainly come a long way since the ‘80s! Most major brands of vegan foods are online and offer printable, free coupons to take with you to the grocery or health store.
If you have children you already know that patience and ingenuity are essential tools in dealing with a variety of circumstances and snacks are no exception! I myself am a pretty impatient kind of gal, but I firmly believe that children sometimes need to see a food numerous times (experts suggest around 15) before they will accept it and in some cases, even sample it. With that in mind, please do not get discouraged if your child is not enthused about new snacks right away– hang in there and I can all but guarantee some new favorite foods will eventually emerge!
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