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Eat Well, Spend Less: Quick Snack Ideas for a Busy School Year

Though we’ve been easing into it for months, today is our first official day of homeschooling.  I may be crazy to admit this, but the thing that is stressing me out the most right now is not how to teach 1+1=2 and how to teach a child to read: my biggest challenge right now is food!

With beginning to homeschool, being three months pregnant with baby number five, and grocery prices rising, I’m having a hard time keeping my family well-fed.  I’ve put myself under pressure to be the most frugal shopper ever, and so when I feel like I’ve spent “too much” at the store, I refuse to shop anymore.

That’s been an OK strategy for me in the past, when the grocery budget was super tight and I had the energy to be creative with “nothing to eat in the house”, but right now my budget isn’t super tight and I don’t have a lot of energy to be creative with a less-than-stellar pantry – so why am I causing myself so much stress?!

All that to say that meals and snacks are a huge struggle for me right now.  My family eats a lot, and is not impressed when I throw a few apple slices at them for a snack.  This month’s topic for Eat Well, Spend Less was back-to-school, and I jumped at the chance to write about easy snacks for school time, as I needed to work on it anyway!

Here’s some of what I’m doing for quick, relatively inexpensive snacks right now.  These are basic ideas – probably nothing you’ve never thought of before – but if you’re like me, I figure you probably don’t need new recipes, you just need a kick in the pants to do the simple things that you already know!

Image from clogozm

Pizza Bagels

You can also do something similar with English muffins!

We make a trip to an Orowheat bread outlet once or twice a month and stock up on bagels and other types of bread.  Pizza Bagels are one of our favorite lunches and they’re so simple: toast a bagel, spread some marinara sauce on it, and top with pepperoni (optional) and cheese.  Broil on low for a few minutes and you’re done.

We also really like to do deli meat sandwiches on bagels – kind of a nice way to dress up the boring sandwich.

Image from Annie O Hirsch

Granola Bars

I stopped buying boxed granola bars awhile ago, for two reasons: one, I wasn’t a fan of the abundance of high-fructose corn syrup; and two, it took eating two or three to feel like they made a dent in my stomach!

Katie from Kitchen Stewardship has another great recipe for granola bars, and her recipe doesn’t use any refined sugars.

But, lately I’ve been making my own granola bars and have been enjoying them so much more.  A friend recommended this recipe for Chewy Granola Bars, and I’ve found it to be pretty good.  I toast the oats before making the bars, and use a full cup of butter as many of the reviews state.

Granola bars freeze very well, and my family actually likes them best when they’re cold!

Image from Trekky Andy

Trail Mix

I had to ask my husband for help with the math on this last night.  Though I knew I was right, I just couldn’t figure out why trail mix costs upwards of $5-6/lb if I can buy the individual ingredients (nuts, raisins, M&Ms) for so much less per pound!  (My husband said it’s because it’s so hard to mix up.)

Soon I will be buying ingredients to make my own trail mix, which is a great snack for kids who are old enough to not pick out just the fruit and chocolate.  I have a couple of little ones that are prohibited from eating trail mix out of the bag because they pick out the good stuff and leave the peanuts!

Fruit Smoothie Popsicles

I am hoping that we will get one last big strawberry sale this summer, as I didn’t stock up at all earlier in the year.  If I do, we’ll be blending some fresh strawberries with bananas and freezing them into popsicles.

We did banana-strawberry popsicles for the first time last year and I wasn’t able to find popsicle molds anywhere.  We ended up making them with mini plastic cups and popsicle sticks and I actually think this worked better than trying to buy a bunch of single-purpose molds.

Image from Sarah Sosniak

Popcorn

We purchased a 50 lb bag of popcorn at Sam’s Club for around $0.37/lb.  At that price, even if we waste some of it, it’s still so much cheaper than buying it in the store!  Our favorite thing to do with popcorn these days is toss it with some olive oil and Smoky Hills Cheese Powder from Savory Spice Shop.  It is delicious, and so much more exciting than just butter and salt (though that’s perfectly yummy, too).

If you don’t mind a little sweeter snack, caramel corn is pretty easy to make and is a huge kid-pleaser!

Apples and Dip

I’m excited that apple season will soon be here!  Fruit is such an easy snack, but it can be lacking in the department of “filling the tummies”, at least in our house.  If you serve apples with a dip, though, they tend to be so much more satisfying!

Here’s some ideas for dips you could serve with apples:

  • peanut butter with granola sprinkles
  • cinnamon, brown sugar, and cream cheese dip (as simple as it sounds – try adding some toffee, too!)
  • caramel dip

Share your snack ideas!

Oh goodness, I’m almost embarrassed because some of these ideas are so simplistic, but hopefully some of you are like me and really just need some reminders about the things you already know to do, rather than shiny new ideas!

What are your favorite easy-to-prepare snack ideas?  Is anyone else struggling with snack and meal times are much as I am right now?!

Read the rest of the posts in the Eat Well, Spend Less series for more ideas on feeding your family well without spending an arm and a leg!

Comments

  1. Jennifer Young says:

    These are great ideas. I am definitely going to try those granola bars and the apple dip!

  2. I am struggling with snack ideas for me! When I was out in the working world, I’d eat yogurt and ha, can’t even remember now! I ate it with wheat thins or pretzels or something like that. Anyways, now that I’m a SAHM and tired of yogurt and not on a schedule as much as I used to be, I have a hard time coming up with good snack ideas. I didn’t think your ideas were too simplistic. I love that they are doable and not a situation where I had to go and look up an ingredient or wonder where I’d purchase it from. I often have a hard time coming up with ideas of things to make in general, so I really appreciate this post.

  3. I make an apple dip that is SOO good. Super easy and yummy too.

    1 cup brown sugar
    1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese softened
    1 TBS vanilla

    Mix the ingredients and voila. There you have it. I have seen it with various nuts added to it as well. The add ins are endless, but I like it “plain”.

    • This sounds similar to what I do, except I add a little bit of cinnamon! Hoping for a good sale on cream cheese soon. :)

    • I make this dip as well. I also use it for parties. The grown-up version is the same but gets a shot of Amaretto too. Yum Yum!

  4. I also have 5 kiddos and homeschool. My favorite go-to snack is dry cereal that I snagged on sale. We also like homemade trail mix, cheese sticks from Costco (so much cheaper), and a “butter sandwich” (piece of bread with butter on it, folded over). Thanks for the ideas!

  5. My favorite fruit dip (its good with just about any fruit) is equal parts cream cheese and marshmellow fluff blended together. It isn’t the healthiest but it is so rich that you don’t want to eat a whole bunch!

  6. I am having trouble finding lunch ideas. My kids are tired of PBJ’s. Any ideas for lunches to take to school? Thanks!

  7. I try to offer the kids some kind of protein with the snack. Apples with PB for dip, hard boiled eggs, yogurt or fruit and yogurt parfaits, frozen yogurt, cheese sticks, ect.

    We like using hummus for dipping veggies, pita bread, crackers, and pretzels. I am going to try to make my own hummus. It is suppose to be very easy.

    Sometimes it isn’t what the snack is, but the presentation. A giant peeled carrot might be more interesting than baby carrots. Breads, meats, and cheeses can be cut into fun shapes. Make your food into something-like a smiley face fruit plate.

  8. I have a few snacks that my 4 boys love….

    A s’more snack: chocolate pudding with peanuts, graham crackers and mini marshmallow
    When they were younger they loved to “build” things with pretzel sticks and cubed cheese. You could add raisin or fruit
    PB&J on waffles
    Ice cream cone filled with fruit with a small amount of yogurt
    Fruit skewers with yogurt for dipping
    Popcorn, dried cherries and yogurt covered raisins
    Nutella and banana graham cracker sandwiches
    Apples and grapes with cinnamon sprinkled yogurt dip
    Tortillas buttered and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, cut into strips and baked at 350 for a few minutes to make “chips”
    Frozen pudding pops

  9. One of my favorites is a banana and peanut butter. The banana gives me quick energy and the pb sticks with me for awhile. The other is cheese and crackers (probably already been said!)–it doesn’t take too many for me to feel satisfied!

    I really love the popsicle idea and the pizza bagels! Thanks for the tips!

  10. Where/when do you buy the nuts for your trail mix. I’ve never priced out if it is a better deal to buy nuts at Costco/Sam’s.
    One time I popped our popcorn in oil and then sprinkled it with a little cinnamon and sugar, and now there is no going back to buttered popcorn for my boys.
    I like the bannana/strawberry popsicle idea too.

    • Last I checked, nuts were definitely cheaper at Sam’s (and probably Costco, too) versus any of the bulk foods stores.

      Love the cinnamon and sugar popcorn idea!

  11. Adore the ideas I’m seeing here. Wondeful suggestions.

    Just to add to the listing:
    - My 5 year old daughter LOVES slices of salami stuffed with cream cheese and rolled up for a great finger food.
    - She also loves Go-gurts frozen and eaten as a popsicle.