School starts, and so do the after-school snacks

By Bill Colvard -

Banana oat bars are so good that no one will notice they’re actually good for you.

Bill Colvard | The News

Store displays of school supplies are giving way to Halloween and Christmas displays so it must finally be time for kids to actually go back to school.

Back to school and the start of a new school year are like New Year’s Day in that it’s a time for resolutions. While kids resolve to study harder, do their homework and generally try their very best to get good grades, perhaps you are thinking you could do a little better at after-school snacks. Perhaps throwing them a KitKat as they come in after school is not sending the right message. Before they settle in to focus on that homework, maybe they need something a little better for them that won’t spoil their dinner.

When school starts next week, if there is a pan or tray of some homemade goodies waiting in the kitchen after school, they’re not even going to notice the lack of Little Debbies and chips.

The secret to getting kids to let go of their favorite empty-calorie snacks is to offer an alternative that they actually like. It’s got to taste good. If your kids insist on sweet stuff, let that sugar serve a purpose and mask other ingredients that are actually good for your kids. Hiding shredded zucchini in brownies, for instance or glazing chickpeas with a crunchy, sweet coating. Who’s to know they’re full of protein?

Some recipes follow that can help you expand your repertoire of the kind of quick, easy snacks that are delicious and at least moderately healthful. Most can be prepared ahead of time and if not, they’re very quick.

Some, like pita nachos, are simple enough that the kids can handle themselves with a little oversight. How much help they need depends on whether they can use the stove by themselves or not.

And if these snacks pass muster with the kids in the family, they’ll certainly find approval with the adults. Just keep it under your hat that they’re good for you. Only you need to know that.

Have a great school year.

Banana Oat Bars

Banana oat bars are kind of a magic dessert-snack. Even folks that find the term “healthy dessert” to be an oxymoron love them. That is of course, if you don’t tell them that it is a healthy dessert. The honey is not necessary but the bars are going to taste “healthier.”

Makes one 9×9-inch pan.

2 large, very ripe bananas

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups rolled oats

2 tbsp. honey

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup raisins or pitted, chopped dried dates

1/4 cup chopped nuts — such as walnuts, hazelnuts or pecans

Grated nutmeg or cinnamon

Heat the oven to 350°F and lightly grease a 9×9-inch square baking dish with olive oil or butter. Peel the bananas and mash their flesh in a medium mixing bowl. Mash very thoroughly until no large chunks remain; the bananas should be essentially liquid. (You will have between 1 cup and 1 1/4 cup.) Stir in the vanilla, if using. Add the oats and honey and stir them in. Stir in the salt, dates, and nuts. Pat the thick mixture evenly into the baking pan. If desired, sprinkle the top lightly with nutmeg or cinnamon. Bake for 30 minutes or until the edges just begin to crisp up. Place the baking pan on a rack to cool. When the pan is mostly cool, cut into bars.

Peanut-Butter Granola Balls

1/3 cup honey

1/4 cup peanut butter

2 tbsp. unsalted butter

1 cup crisp rice cereal

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

1/4 cup dried fruit

In a small saucepan over medium, heat honey, peanut butter, and butter. Stir until loosened and smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in cereal, oats, and dried fruit. Drop mixture by the tablespoon into mini paper cupcake or candy liners. Place on a rimmed baking sheet, and refrigerate until set, about 15 minutes. To store, refrigerate in an airtight container up to 1 week.

Candied Spiced Chickpeas

1 can (15.5 ounces) chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1 cup sugar

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground allspice

1 tsp.coarse salt

1/3 cup water

1 cup vegetable oil

In a medium pot, combine chickpeas, sugar, cinnamon, allspice, salt, and water over medium-high. Bring mixture to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves and liquid is very thick, about 12 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat oil over medium (a chickpea should sizzle slightly when added). With a slotted spoon, strain off as much sugar syrup as possible, then transfer chickpeas to oil. Fry, gently shaking skillet to prevent chickpeas from sticking, until dark golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. With slotted spoon, transfer to a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet lined with paper towels. Immediately season with salt; let cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature, up to 1 day.

Popcorn Balls with Peanuts and Raisins

For popping kernels, follow instructions on package, or use 12 cups plain popped microwave popcorn (without salt or butter). Also, try substituting other types of dried fruit and nuts for the raisins and peanuts.

2 tbsp. butter

1 bag (10 ounces) mini marshmallows

12 cups plain unsalted popped popcorn, (from 2/3 cup kernels)

1/2 cup unsalted peanuts

1/2 cup raisins

In a medium nonstick saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter over low heat. Add 1 bag (10 ounces) mini marshmallows; cook, stirring, until melted, 10 to 12 minutes. In a large bowl, combine 12 cups plain unsalted popped popcorn (from 2/3 cup kernels), 1/2 cup unsalted peanuts, and 1/2 cup raisins (be careful not to mix in any un-popped kernels). Pour melted marshmallows over popcorn mixture, and fold to combine. You will need to work quickly since the sugar in the marshmallows hardens as it cools. Rub a little butter into your hands to prevent sticking, and gently form 12 balls, each about 2 1/2 inches across; place on waxed paper. Let set until cool and firm, about 10 minutes.

Frozen Fruit Salad

2 bananas

2 cups red grapes, seedless

2 cups green grapes, seedless

Peel bananas; cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place banana slices and grapes on a small rimmed baking sheet in a single layer. Freeze until fruit is frozen throughout, at least 1 hour. Divide fruit among four bowls, and serve. Once frozen, fruit can be placed in a resealable plastic bag and kept frozen up to 2 months.

Pita Nachos

1 regular size (6 inch) whole-wheat pita, split in half horizontally and cut into quarters

1/3 cup mild salsa, plus more for serving (optional)

1/2 cup shredded cheese (2 ounces), such as cheddar or Monterey Jack

Heat broiler, with rack set in top third of oven. Arrange pita pieces in a single layer, cut side up, on a baking sheet; dividing evenly, top each first with salsa, then cheese. Broil until cheese has melted and edges of pita are crisp, 2 to 4 minutes. Serve with extra salsa, if desired.

Peanut-Butter Granola Bars

These homemade versions of a favorite snack food are filled with healthy fruit and nuts and are very simple to make.

1 large egg white

1/2 cup old-fashioned oats

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup sliced almonds

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 cup natural peanut butter or almond butter

1/2 cup light brown sugar

3 tbsp. vegetable oil

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 300°F. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with 2 crisscrossed rectangles of parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang at 2 opposite ends. In a large bowl, combine oats, almonds and cranberries. In a small saucepan, whisk together oil, brown sugar, peanut butter, cinnamon, salt and 1 tablespoon water over low heat until sugar has dissolved, about 5 minutes. Let cool slightly; whisk in egg white. Pour over oat mixture; stir until moistened. Spread evenly in bottom of pan; smooth top. Bake until top is firm, about 30 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes. Lift out of pan, using paper as handles. Let cool completely, cut into bars with serrated knife. (Make sure your oven is calibrated properly: the oven temperature for this recipe is 300 degrees to prevent the bars from browning before they are cooked through. If your oven was too hot, that could account for the bars turning out dark.)

Better Brownies

Prepare your favorite brownie batter, adding 1 cup shredded zucchini (squeezed dry); divide among greased mini-muffin cups and bake 15 to 18 minutes at 350°F.

Fruit Leather

Mix 1/3 cup no-sugar-added fruit preserves with 1 teaspoon cornstarch. Spread into a 2-by-12-inch strip on greased parchment; bake 45 minutes at 225°F. Cool, then trim the parchment and roll up.

Banana oat bars are so good that no one will notice they’re actually good for you. oat bars are so good that no one will notice they’re actually good for you. Bill Colvard | The News

By Bill Colvard

Nominate your favorite cook to share their love of food with readers of The Mount Airy News.

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699, on Twitter @BillColvard.

Nominate your favorite cook to share their love of food with readers of The Mount Airy News.

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699, on Twitter @BillColvard.

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