It’s the Most Snackiest Time of the Year!
This time of year always stretches my creativity when it comes to surviving the marathon of holiday events, family gatherings, Christmas potlucks, and crazy schedules. When it comes to navigating the holiday busyness with our little ones, I find that snacks can be the make-or-break difference – especially with late-night events and routines that aren’t even close to normal.
(Snacks can also help us Big Ones survive, too!)
But constant on-the-go snacking can quickly and secretly drain your budget. And at the end of the day – it’s just SNACKS! It’s one thing to splurge on the occasional lunch or breakfast. This season can be a time when funds – and time – are tight. When I’m stressed and rushed, it’s easy to reach for a carton of crackers or a box of applesauce squishers … it’s great for saving time, but is so painful to the budget. GAH! What to do??
Fast, Cheap Snacks?
Normally, I like to make as much as I can at home. That changed this past fall when we had a pipe burst in our wall and water damage wiped out our kitchen and bathroom. Suddenly, life was launched into a tizzy of crazy activity that required the ability to have affordable, portable snacks WITHOUT breaking the budget … or using a kitchen.
So, for the sake of freedom and sanity during this crazy time, my family created our personal list of 6 snack foods we would make at home and 6 we gave ourselves the freedom to buy. All snacks needed to fit the following four criteria:
- be as inexpensive-per-serving as possible
- be portable
- dirty no more than two dishes to help save on clean up time (like a pot and spoon)
- be ready from pantry to table in under 7 minutes
By the way, if you are scratching your head to just come up with THREE snack ideas, check out Kitchen Stewardship®’s utterly amazing ebook Healthy Snacks to Go. I cannot say enough how wonderful this book is. This resource has saved my sanity more than once!
So here is my personal list of 6 snack foods you should make at home, with some recipes…
Popcorn is one of those amazing snack foods we don’t cook enough. It’s both whole grain and gluten free (and egg free! and dairy free! and soy free!). It’s light enough to enjoy, yet substantial enough to take away the hunger urge. Best of all, you don’t need any special equipment OR a microwave — just a lidded pot and stovetop burner.
- Inexpensive: Extremely!
- Portable: Yes
- Time It Took To Make In My Kitchen: 6 minutes, 37 seconds
- Dishes Dirtied: Two (pot + lid)
- Category: Snack
- 1 Tbs. coconut oil
- 1/3 c. popping corn kernels
- salt (Use the code kitchenstewardship for 15% off of your first purchase), to taste
- In a medium pot with lid, melt 1-2 TB of coconut oil (or desired oil) over medium heat.
- Pour in enough popping corn kernels to cover the bottom of the pot in a single layer.
- Salt lightly.
- PUT THE LID ON. You only forget this step once.
- Gently shake the pot every 20-30 seconds until the kernels stop or slow down popping. Remove from heat.
- Shake salt (or other desired topping), stirring to incorporate.
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2. Homemade Smoothies
My kids love smoothies. It’s such a wonderful way to get vegetables into their system that they may otherwise not be eager to ingest. Dear Strawberries and Spinach: who knew you could be so wonderful together?!
To save money, we always hunt for the browned bananas in the grocery section and ask our friendly grocer if they qualify for markdown discount. Then we peel and freeze the bananas in smoothie-sized packages – a true time saver!
However, when it comes to being portable, smoothies can get a little tricky. That’s why our family absolutely LOVES the Squooshi pouches! These re-usable squishy bags are the perfect serving size for a hearty snack. I was pleasantly surprised how easy they were to wash.
My kids like to gnaw on the top of the disposable pouches and I was afraid they were going to destroy the Squooshi tops. However, the top plastic spout is much sturdier than the disposable option. (And if you are really worried about it being chewed, you can use Squooshi’s handy spoon attachment.)
You can read a full review of Squooshi pouches here.
But what if you are on the ultimate time-and-budget pinch? Or don’t have a blender? The Squooshi can hold more than smoothies. Spoon in some applesauce and/or hand-mashed squash into a Squooshi. You’ll be surprised how much your kids love it! You can also spoon in oatmeal, cottage cheese, avocado, and yogurt. Not necessarily all in the same pouch, of course. 🙂
Need smoothie help? Click here to learn how to make green (aka veggie) smoothies or here to learn some secrets to supercharge your smoothies.
Tip: Get extra bang for your buck and freeze some of your smoothie as popsicles!
- Inexpensive: Compared to buying those little packages in the store? Yes!
- Portable: Yes, especially using a Squooshi pouch
- Time It Took To Make In My Kitchen: 2 Minutes, 3 seconds
- Dishes Dirtied: One (Blender)
3. No-Bake Power Balls (and Reverse-Engineered Larabars)
We love Larabars for emergency snacks. These high protein treats have simple and wholesome ingredients – just nuts, dates, and dried fruit. However, they can run between $1.00 or $1.25 per bar, which is certainly not cheap when everyone grabs a bar on the go.
Katie was recently featured on her local television station where she made her famous reverse-engineered larabars in under 3 minutes. Now THAT’S speed. You can find the recipe for all FIFTEEN varieties in Healthy Snacks To Go.
- Inexpensive: Compared to a larabar? YES!
- Portable: Yes
- Time It Took To Make In My Kitchen: 4 minutes, 6 seconds
- Dishes Dirtied: One (Food Processor)
4. Ranch Dip with Carrot Sticks
Let’s just be honest. Kids love to dip things. One of my kids was prone to turn their nose up at raw vegetables. Once I introduced homemade ranch dip to the equation, I couldn’t chop veggies fast enough!
Sure, you can buy carrot sticks and a ranch dip packet ready-to-eat at the store. But it’s super expensive … and not-so-great when it comes to ingredients! Rather than compromise, chop up some carrot sticks at home. Need to be portable? You can serve the ranch dip in a 4-oz mason jar (or a stainless steel container).
I streamline my time by keeping a jar of homemade Ranch Dip Mix on hand. Rather than fumbling with a bunch of spice jars and measurements, I just do a simple scoop-and-dump.
Tip: Write the ingredients to make your mix on the jar. You’ll never have to hunt for the recipe again.
Tip: To cut down on dirty dishes, make your ranch dip in a wide mouth pint-size mason jar. You have plenty of room to stir and can serve it directly from the jar!
- Inexpensive: Yes
- Portable: Great for a picnic or school snack, not-so-great for in the car
- Time It Took To Make In My Kitchen: 41 seconds
- Dishes Dirtied: Two (knife + carrot peeler)
5. Sliced Fresh Fruit
Sometimes I forget the obvious. Like, eating sliced apples for a snack. Currently, my kids are loving eating sour cream with apples for a luxurious treat. Yes. You read that right. Sour cream with their apples. (Don’t believe me? Check out this post.)
- Inexpensive: Yes
- Portable: Yes
- Time It Took To Make In My Kitchen: 1 minute, 3 seconds
- Dishes Dirtied: Two (knife + spoon)
6. Trail Mix
I discovered the beauty of trail mix one morning when time for breakfast was so tight, we didn’t even have opportunity to make reverse-engineered larabars or smoothies. Yikes. In a moment of inspiration, I remembered that trail mix had the same ingredients to a larabar … just not mooshed together.
While I was chasing the toddler with shoes in hand, I threw bags of almonds (use the code STEWARDSHIP for 10% off at that site!), walnuts (use the code STEWARDSHIP for 10% off at that site!), raisins, dried coconut flakes and chocolate chips on the table. I asked my 5-year-old to put a spoonful of each into a reusable snack bag (read my review of different brands) for everyone to eat in the car. She was ecstatic about her job and super eager to help. It was one of our most favorite breakfasts snacks – and something my kiddos can easily assemble for themselves!
- Inexpensive: Compared to store-bought trail mix? Yes
- Portable: Yes
- Time It Took To Make In My Kitchen: 39 seconds
- Dishes Dirtied: One (Or even none, if you skip the spoon and use your hands)
Snacks We Decided To Buy
Now that I have you salivating, I thought I would share the 6 snack foods that we deemed worth buying when money and time was tight. Some are foods which we can totally make at home. In fact, you may look at my list and think “Oh, I would totally make that all the time!” Some foods are so easy to make, it would surprise you – like these delicious homemade crackers! But when my time is tight, these are the foods that I personally give myself permission to purchase:
- Raisins and Dried Fruit: Sure, you can make dehydrated fruit leathers at home. But it’s go time and you need something NOW.
- Hummus: Costco has a 16-pack of organic hummus in snack sizes for $5.79. And you can freeze it. Hallelujah.
- Crackers: Our favorite crackers are actually Matzo crackers. You can find them on huge discount after Passover in the spring — or in the kosher section of your grocery store. We buy a whole-wheat Matzo cracker — and the ingredients are just whole wheat and water. Hard to beat that simplicity!
- Cheese Sticks/Slices: A great little burst of protein when you’re in a pinch.
- Frozen Mango: Have you discovered this yet?? Frozen mango is one of the few fruits that maintains its same consistency after being frozen. Just put it in a dish and serve! It’s hard for us to get good mangoes where we live, making the peeling process tricky. I’m in love with frozen mango.
- Cottage Cheese: Delicious, especially when served with fruit! Serve in a Squooshi pouch for ultimate portability!
A Quick Christmas Idea
If you are scratching your head to give a meaningful Christmas gift this year, why not consider giving someone a Super Snack Bundle that you make yourself? You can find a basket for cheap at the thrift store and fill it with portable snacks: Maybe a few bags of homemade trail mix, a bag of popcorn, a few ready-to-use Squooshi pouches with a jar of applesauce, and maybe even a copy of Healthy Snacks to Go!
If that’s too craftsy for you, I guarantee that just receiving a Squooshi pouch in a stocking will be a welcome gift to any kid (and mom!) this Christmas. And with such cute and cheery patterns, it’s bound to bring a smile.
12 thoughts on “Time & Budget Busters: 6 Snack Foods You Should Make At Home (And 6 You Should Buy)”
If you add the salt into the pot before you pop corn, the salt sticks to the kernels without fall out. So I use less salt on the pop corn and waste less salt.
Did you know there is such a thing as all-natural instant hummus? It is shelf-stable for months and mixes up in minutes with a bowl and fork.
I am always looking for new snack ideas, thank you! I’m going to start trying these out on my family!
Emily – glad to be a blessing! Happy Snacking! 😀
SUPER helpful post, as always, Bethany! I think I am going to try the no-bake power balls. I do pop my own popcorn (and go with organic from Trader Joes) in coconut oil. It gives it such an amazing flavor– especially seasoned with Sea salt.
I’ve never considered frozen Mango, as I feared it might become mushy. Good to know that it remains intact once thawed. Will definitely have to try it in a fruit salad sometime soon.
Thanks again for an informative and fun post!
Jackie — Enjoy the mango! It stays together much better than frozen berries or cherries. Warning: it may be addicting! 😀
Going to disagree with you on the hummus, but I *am* a canner! I usually have canned chickpeas to hand, and here I break down the costs of home made hummus
Stuart – props on canning your own chickpeas! I bet your homemade hummus tastes great.
I read recently that all popcorn is non-GMO. Another plus for popcorn! I’m thinking of making caramel corn as a Christmas gift. I’d like to try replacing part or all of the brown sugar with maple syrup. Anyone have advice?
I haven’t tried it. I use sorghum syrup and honey in my granola. The sorghum made my granola stick and clump together better than the honey alone. It is suggested to use in popcorn balls and caramel corn on my container. It is a little cheaper than maple syrup, but still a healthy option…
I haven’t tried kettle corn — usually because I’m in the hunt for something not-sweet when I make popcorn. You’ll have to let us know if you experiment (and how it goes!).
I’m not sure where I printed this recipe off from. But we have been making it for years and it’s wonderful!
Pop a bowl full of popcorn. I use 1/2 cup unpopped popcorn per recipe. Use less popcorn if you want a thicker caramel and more if you want a thinner coating.
For the topping.
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup sucanat
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
(optional – nuts)
I like the taste better if I butter and salt the popcorn first but you don’t have to do that.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Mix topping ingredients together in saucepan over medium heat for about 2 minutes. Mix the topping and popcorn (and nuts if using) in a large bowl. Place in oven for about 15 minutes. Let cool slightly and break apart. This recipe doubles easily.