- Food and Cooking
Cheap Treats/Snacks for Kids
Summer is here!!!
When summer hits, does your fridge take a beating? Is it opened and closed all day long? Are there children in and out of your pantry asking, "Is there anything to eat?" Do your children have friends over and when they leave is there the remains of a dish tornado left behind - glasses and plates all over the counter and empty food containers everywhere?
This is what happens at our house. I think our food bill triples in the summer. My kids do not eat much more than they do during the school year (as evidenced by their lack of weight gain), but it seems to me that we just go through food faster and in larger quantities. A lot of it is that they eat a little differently - instead of sandwiches, they eat leftovers much more than usual. When friends are over, there seems to be more food requested and more consumed - obviously.
When inviting friends over for meals, I try to find foods that stretch out so our food bills don't stretch as well, but it is not always easy.
If you feed them, they will come....
Here are some of the foods that we keep on hand to feed the masses:
popcorn - This is such a cheap item. If you pop it yourself, it is even more economical. It fills them up and even gives them a little fiber. You can season it with herbs or butters to make it fancy without spending a lot of money (http://allrecipes.com/recipe/ranch-style-popcorn-seasoning/).
fruit/vegetable breads - Leftover fruits or vegetables can be used to make these. We make a lot of banana and carrot bread. If you add some chocolate chips or even some frosting or Nutella/peanut butter when sliced, it will be gobbled up before you know it.
tortilla chips and salsa - We can buy a 6 lb. box of tortilla chips at Sam's Club for $7.26 along with a 64 oz. salsa for $3.98. A little healthier than chips (tomatoes/onions/lycopene in the salsa) and a LOT cheaper. The fiber in the chips and the veggies in the salsa fills kids up more than chips.
pretzels - At Sam's Club, I can but a 6 lb. box of mini-pretzels for $6.48. We like to dip them in mustard, honey mustard, pretzels, and sometimes, when I am feeling like a nice mom, melted chocolate. You can also season pretzels with cheap herb mixes (like powdered Ranch and powdered cheese). A little healthier than chips and the fiber helps fill them up as well.
shortbread cookies - These are the eaiest cookies to make ever! I stink at sugar cookies, so these are my specialty. Flour, butter, sugar and vanilla. Four ingredients that I make into bar cookies. You can fancy them up by adding chocolate chips (do you see a theme here in our cooking???), dried fruits, nuts, flaxseeds, peanut butter chips, etc.... The possibilities are endless.
snow cones/slushies - Ice and syrup. Water is free from the tap and the syrups we usually get on sale or clearance at our grocery stores or Dollar Stores. You can make your own syrups as well if you have the time and energy. Allrecipies has an easy recipe for that at http://allrecipes.com/recipe/snow-cone-syrup-ii/. We bought an electric snow cone machine a few years back on clearance at the end of the summer for around $10. We have not stopped using it since. On a hot day, this is the treat that they all want.
rice krispie treats - Krispie cereal is usually one of the cheaper cereals. We often buy the generic because it is not as sweet and even cheaper. Marshmallows we always buy when they are on clearance after a holiday. The red ones from Valentine's Day and the green ones from St. Pat's and Christmas are our favorites. The HUGE ones after summer rock too. Add a little butter (and sometimes chocolate chips - of course!) and you have an easy pan full of smiles.
cereal - Aldi is the best for cereals. They are reasonably priced and I think they are less sweet than some name brands. Cereal goes fast in our house - they gobble it up before I can sit down. Sometimes we mix two boxes of cereal together. Sometimes we add some goldfish or pretzels to Cheerios and thus creating our own mixes. The possibilities are endless.
jello - If you plan ahead, this is a yummy treat when you add some whipped topping. Jello is cheap (especially the generic stuff). Whipped topping can be bought on sale as well.
muffins - We like to make muffins. The varieties are endless, you can use stuff in your fridge, you can top them, stuff them, and even freeze them. I usually make several batches at a time and freeze portions. You can throw a frozen muffin in a lunchbox and it is thawed by the time kids eat. If I know friends are coming over, I pull out a bag in the morning, and by the time the kids are hungry, they are ready to eat.
pre-sliced fruit (watermelon, apples, pears, grapes, melons) - Depending on what is on sale, pre-sliced fruit is a great way to feed kids. A whole watermelon may cost a few dollars and feed a dozen kids. It is refreshing and the lycopene in it is healthy. We sometimes make a cream cheese/marshmallow fluff dip to go along with the fruit. It intrigues the kids! You can also dip apples in peanut butter or yogurt.
popsicles (homemade and store bought) - Ice cream can be expensive, but I think that popsicles are cheaper. You can purchase them on sale for a few dollars and they last longer than a cookie. They melt quicker on a hot day (the only drawback I see) and some are sugary, but not bad if they are a treat, not a meal.
If you have molds, you can make your own. With homemade, you can get creative - limit sugar, add fruit, mix in yogurt, and add fun surprises in the middle. You can use pre-made juices, add your own, use milk, or just freeze yogurt.
oyster crackers - We LOVE these little crackers. They are cheap (especially at Aldi and other discount stores), small, and fill you up. We add seasonings to them or combine with some other crackers to make those last longer (ie: great with goldfish or in a Chex-mix).
graham crackers - The possibilities with these are endless. Obviously s'mores rule, but I have used the following toppings and had success with kids: cream cheese and jelly, peanut butter, Nutella, peanut butter and bananas, peanut butter and jelly, marshmallow fluff, and cream cheese and fruit. Buying the lower sugar/lower fat ones helps too. When they go on sale, we stock up as well. Aldi has them at a much lower price that the major chains.
peanut butter cookies - A cookie, yes, but fewer ingredients and some protein in there to keep kids full. They are infinitely healthier when they are homemade, but again, you can add things in there to make them heartier to keep kids fuller longer. Nuts inside make them crunchier (if you like that). Adding cranberries or other dried fruits adds to the hearty factor. Chocolate chips (yes, again) are fun as are adding cream cheese to the recipe (http://www.bettycrocker.com/recipes/chocolate-cream-cheese-peanut-butter-bars/0e8201de-0839-4a11-a743-fd25b545d940).
popcorn balls - You can pop the popcorn fairly cheap and make it into popcorn balls (http://www.cooks.com/rec/doc/0,171,150187-247200,00.html).
homemade mixes - A few times we have had to scrape the barrel of the fridge and pantry to find something to eat. That is when we get creative and make our own snack mixes. If you have a cup or two of several different things, you can throw it all in a bowl and "create" your own snack. Some of the foods that you can combine are: goldfish, oyster crackers, popcorn, cereals, nuts, dried fruits, raisins, chips (ie: Bugles, Doritos, Cheetos, etc...), mini marshmallows, sunflower seeds, granola, small crackers (ie: Cheez-its, wheat thins, etc...), etc.. Having even a half cup of most of these, combined can create a whole bowl full of fun. Some of our most interesting mixes have come from clearing out the pantry.
juice packets - Hawaiian Punch and those types of drink packets are relatively cheap when on sale (we can usually get them for less that 10 cents per packet). Since you add your own sugar, you control how much is added. I admit that ours are a little less sweet, but no one really complains. It is a lot cheaper (and healthier) than pre-made drinks or pop.
water - This is the cheapest and healthiest drink I have ever found. And ours comes from the tap (the horror!). No one in our house complains. We have ice and we have water. Sometimes I add sliced citrus fruits (ie: lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruit) to a pitcher in the fridge to give it a little flavor.
Some final thoughts....
These are some of our creative ways to solve the bottomless stomach pit of kids over the summer. I am sure that there are a million other ideas out there. These are some of the ones that work in our house.
Some of these are healthier than others, some are just plain fun. There are times I am a crazy mom worried about what they eat, and there are times I want to treat them and their friends to some fun. Both ways work and neither is better than the other. It is summer and we should all have some fun!
By the way, our Nestle chocolate chip are form Sam's Club - a 72 oz. bag for $10.28. A little pricy, but if you use it sparingly, just to add some chocolate to a mix, it lasts a long time.