Kids can help make their own healthful snacks

Ann Martin Rolke oversees the preparation of holiday snacks recently with, from right, Molly Louney, 6, Stella Louney, 8, and Eva Rolke, 8.
Ann Martin Rolke oversees the preparation of holiday snacks recently with, from right, Molly Louney, 6, Stella Louney, 8, and Eva Rolke, 8.

Kids always seem to be hungry, but striving to keep them well-nourished is a challenge. It’s even more difficult during holiday seasons, when parties and kitchens abound with treats.

Instead of nagging them to eat more fruit and vegetables, get them involved in making – and eating – fun, healthful snacks. If you prepare extra batches, you can give them as gifts without blowing your budget.

Children as young as 3 can help with some aspects of cooking, especially learning to measure and stir. Set them up at a counter or table with an apron and plenty of room. Read through the recipe completely, to make sure you have everything at hand, and then let them help put it all together.

One great no-bake snack that’s just the right size for small tummies is energy balls made with oatmeal and a nut or seed butter. Mix in other flavors that your children like, such as toasted coconut, raisins and chocolate or peanut butter chips. Add a dose of extra nutrition in the form of chia or flax seeds.

Use a 1-inch cookie scoop or melon baller to portion the dough. Get kids busy rolling the dough into balls and dipping them in more nutrient-rich garnishes or even a few colored sprinkles for fun. A few minutes in the refrigerator makes these portable snacks ready to go.

For other snack ideas, browse through your cookbooks. Chronicle Books’ two holiday kitchen-craft books – “Kids in the Holiday Kitchen” (2007) and “Holiday Crafting and Baking With Kids” (2011) have a variety of easy recipes good year-round. An especially fun one for winter: Celebration Sticks.

To get the kids involved, have them dip or spread the melted candy on pretzel rods and roll them in the toppings. For Christmas, try red sanding sugar and green sprinkles; for birthdays, multicolored jimmies and toasted coconut are tasty. You can even make them more gourmet for a cocktail party tidbit by using high-quality chocolate and ground toasted nuts or sparkly dragées.

Purchase cellophane bags and put one or two fancy pretzels in each, tied with a ribbon. They make perfect gifts for teachers, school friends and community helpers such as postal workers.

The Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op regularly schedules classes in several series for children: Kindercooks and Books (ages 4 to 6), Sprouting Chefs (ages 6 to 9) and Kids & Teens in the Kitchen (ages 10 to 16).

Upcoming classes will include hands-on instruction for recipes such as Mini Pumpkin Bread and Party Penguins Olive Snacks. A recent “Cozy Treats” Sprouting Chefs class included a spiced nuts recipe that makes a great snack and gift. Because the recipe requires an oven to bake the nuts and cook the egg, make sure an adult is available for supervision.

The Co-op makes its spiced nuts with whole almonds, but they work equally well with pecan halves. Try a variation with almonds and a cumin-orange coating or walnut halves with cayenne and sugar.

Once the nuts are cool, break up the chunks and package them in small boxes or bags. Or put them in a colorful bowl and wrap the whole thing in cellophane for a reusable gift. A handful in a recloseable bag slipped into a child’s coat pocket is a good snack.

No-bake peanut butter energy balls

Time: 15 minutes

Makes about 25 pieces

This easy, healthful snack bite was shared by Erica Cunningham. She makes them for her daughter’s soccer team, but they work well as between-meal snacks and on-the-go nibbles. Customize them with different chips, dried fruit, and a variety of nut and seed butters.

1 cup rolled oats

⅔ cup shredded coconut, toasted

½ cup chocolate chips

½ cup peanut butter

⅓ cup honey

1 tablespoon chia seeds

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Toasted coconut, flax seeds and toasted ground nuts for garnish

In a food processor, blend the oats, coconut and chocolate chips for 10 seconds. In a large bowl, combine the oat mixture with the peanut butter, honey, chia seeds and vanilla. Roll and compress the mixture into 1-inch balls. Roll the balls in flax seeds, toasted ground nuts or toasted coconut or just leave plain and set them on parchment paper.

Refrigerate the balls for a few minutes until firm, then transfer them to an airtight container. Refrigerate and enjoy for up to 1 week.

Spiced nuts

Time: 10 minutes, plus baking

Makes about 2 cups

The Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op uses this recipe in its Sprouting Chefs cooking classes. It’s a very easy way to flavor nuts of any kind. If your children like spice, add a few dashes of cayenne pepper to the mix. The batch doubles easily and is especially good on pecans, too.

1 egg white

1/3 cup sugar

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon fine sea salt

¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

½ pound whole almonds or your favorite nut

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine the egg white, sugar, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg and mix well. Add the nuts and toss until completely coated. Spread them evenly on the baking sheet and bake until the coating is very dry, about 20 minutes.

Let the nuts cool completely and store them in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Celebration Sticks

Time: 15 minutes, plus chilling

Makes 15 sticks

Tailor these festive snacks to your family’s special celebration. You can also use butterscotch chips as the base for the colored sprinkles. Put them in clear cellophane bags tied with a ribbon for a pretty gift.

Recipe from “Kids in the Holiday Kitchen” (Chronicle Books, 2007).

Sprinkles (colors depending on the holiday)

1 cup white chocolate chips or semisweet chocolate chips

15 (8-inch) pretzel rods

Bags and raffia or ribbon

Arrange 1 1/4 -inch waxed paper strips of whichever colors of sprinkles you intend to use, or put them in separate bowls by color.

Place the chips in the top of a double boiler or a metal bowl over a saucepan filled with 1 inch of hot water (creating your own double boiler). Melt the chocolate chips over medium-low heat until smooth, about 8 minutes.

Use a butter knife to spread the chocolate over half of a pretzel.

Roll the pretzel over the sprinkle strips (or dip into the bowls) until coated. Repeat with the remaining pretzels. Place them on a baking sheet covered in waxed paper. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Tie the pretzels into little bunches with colorful raffia or ribbon. Store them in an airtight container for up to 1 week.