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Smyrna/Clayton Sun-Times
  • After-school snacks: Tide kids over until dinner

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  • Going back to school means more than just classes. Lots of students have a long list of activities later in the afternoon: practice for all sorts of sports, cheerleading, play rehearsals, club meetings – even homework assignments.
    Each day is very full and requires more than the buzz from a load of sugar or the calories in salt-covered snacks. Nutrition is key, but most kids focus on flavor. For parents, it’s a balancing act.
    Here are some tasty, affordable snacks that should work for everyone. These can fuel busy after-school schedules and might even become popular enough for family picnics.
    Trail mix
    You can buy this stuff ready-made, of course, but packing it personally means you can tailor it to your children’s preferences without relying too much on processed sugar. Try for a mix of salty and naturally sweet, and remember that pockets aren’t refrigerated. I loaded our mix into snack-size freezer bags.
    To keep all these snacks equal – and cut down on “you got more (fill in the specific treat) than me” – count out the larger items, such as dried banana slices, and use a tablespoon for sunflower kernels, dried cranberries and other small items.
    In addition to banana slices, sunflower kernels and cranberries, my mix includes mini chocolate chips, dried peach slices, pecans, pistachios and pretzel sticks. If your kids like lots of foods, you’ll have a universe of choices. On top of the selections already mentioned, you could use non-sugared cereal, cheese chunks or small popcorn balls made with honey. And don’t forget all the other nuts and dried fruits available at supermarkets.
    The temptations are great, but keep these bags small. They’re snacks, not meals. And although this high-energy stuff may seem innocent, it is not “lite” fare.
    To kabob or not?
    For fruit kabobs, I started with small wooden skewers, but these little pointed sticks can be dangerous for youngsters on the move. Save the skewers for older kids and, even then, snip off the sharp tips. The best bet for safety is to pack fresh fruit in small plastic containers that have secure lids.
    Variety and bright colors are your watchwords, and again, make sure all the servings are the same. I found that maraschino cherries, green grapes, black grapes, ripe strawberries and tangerine sections look great on a skewer or in a plastic container. Your supermarket or farmers’ market can offer even more options.
    Sweet punctuation
    Peanut butter cookies are very naughty, but if you don’t eat them by the handful, they’re tiny sins. Think small. I rolled dough balls a bit less than 1/2 inch in diameter, then chilled them to help hold their shape during baking.
    These micros are cute, but peanut allergies are quite serious, so be sure you let everyone know the main ingredient. With that warning in place, serve these with fresh fruit, or perhaps you’d like to pack a few as a sweet element in your trail mix.
    Page 2 of 2 - Peanut Butter Micro Cookies
    • 1 cup peanut butter
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 1 egg
    • 1/4 to 1/3 cup mini chocolate chips
    Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line one or two rimmed cookie sheets with baking parchment. Set aside.
    In a medium bowl, mix peanut butter, sugar and egg. Place half the dough in a separate bowl. Add chocolate chips to one of the bowls and mix thoroughly.
    Shape dough into balls a bit smaller than 1/2 inch in diameter. Place them about an inch apart on the cookie sheets. Chill for 15 minutes or until dough is firm.
    Bake for 6 to 8 minutes, until the bottoms of the cookies are light brown. Remove and allow to cool.
    Makes about 150 micro cookies.
    CAPTIONS
    Img 7556
    Fruit kabobs can ride on wooden skewers, but to be on the safe side we snipped off the pointed ends after the fruit was threaded on. For younger kids, pack the fruit in plastic containers that have secure lids.
    Img 7585
    Half of these cookies have mini chocolate chips; half are plain but richly peanutty. You could use crunchy peanut butter or add finely chopped pecans or walnuts to the dough.
    Img 7575
    Lining cookie sheets with parchment helps the tiny cookies retain a charming roundness during baking.
    Img 7603
    Micro cookies are about the diameter of a quarter.
    Img 7580
    A bit of fresh fruit goes well with a few cookies.
    Img 7546
    Let’s assemble trail mix: (top row, from left) dried cranberries, dried banana slices, pecans, (middle row, from left) pretzel sticks, dried peach slices, pistachio nuts, (bottom row, from left) sunflower kernels and mini chocolate chips.
    MAIN PHOTO Img 7583
    Fresh fruit, cookies and packets of trail mix will be welcome afternoon pick-me-ups for your kids and their friends. These easy goodies are not intended as meals, and they certainly are not low-calorie, so keep the servings small. FOODSTYLING AND PHOTOS BY MARGARET MAPLES/MORE CONTENT NOW

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