Many people rely on snacks to get through the day, but nibbling on packaged foods can be high in cost and high in calories. Making healthy snacks at home boosts the nutritional value and saves money. Instead of loading up on the packaged stuff, prepare some of these tasty homemade snacks.
Air-popped popcorn is a cheap, low-calorie snack. Five pounds of kernels cost less than $10 and an ounce yields about 4 cups popped. Add sweet or savory toppings for an extra dash of flavor. Toss hot popcorn in a small amount of butter or oil, then sprinkle on cinnamon and sugar, garlic powder, Parmesan cheese, or ranch dressing mix. Even with the toppings, this filling snack is less than 150 calories a cup and costs pennies to make.
Energy bars are a good on-the-go snack but cost $1 or more apiece. Make your own for a fraction of the price. Start with 2 cups rolled oats and 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut. Add one-half cup each of dates, raisins, chocolate chips, seeds, and/or nuts and mix. Stir in 1.5 cups peanut or almond butter, 1 cup honey, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Shape the mix into bars 1 inch thick. For a drier texture, bake 15 minutes at 350 degrees.
With the right ingredients, muffins can be a healthful and inexpensive DIY snack. At just 100 calories each, banana and oat protein muffins from the blog The Balanced Brunetteprovide a quick energy boost any time of day. They contain no sugar or flour, so they're easy on the wallet and the waistline.
Roasted pumpkin seeds are one of the easiest and cheapest snacks to make at home. One pound of raw pumpkin seeds, or pepitas, costs less than $6, and 1 ounce of cooked seeds has only 170 calories. Mix 2 cups raw pepitas with 2 teaspoons olive oil and 1 teaspoon sea salt. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes. Store the roasted seeds in an airtight container.
Many store-bought dips contain preservatives and saturated fat and sell for hefty prices. Fourteen ounces of commercial veggie dip costs more than $3 and packs more than 100 calories into just 2 tablespoons. By comparison, one-quarter cup of homemade spinach and artichoke dip contains just 72 calories. Try a recipe from The Yummy Life, which calls for yogurt, low-fat cheeses, and more vegetables than standard dips.
Commercial salsas may taste good, but they tend to be expensive and not nearly as healthy as homemade. Take a break from the usual soupy tomato salsa and mix up enough black bean and corn salsa for a crowd. A budget-friendly recipe at Taste of Home calls for a few cans of vegetables, plum tomatoes, jalapeños, onion, lime, and cilantro.
Pita chips are a nice alternative to greasy potato chips and a good companion for hummus or salsa. Baking pita chips at home reduces fat and preservatives and keeps extra pita bread from going to waste. A 12-ounce bag produces two cookie sheets full of chips for about 60 cents less than the cost of a 7.3-ounce bag of pita chips from the store. Slice the pitas into smaller pieces, toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt, and bake on a foil-lined baking sheet at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes. Add spices such as rosemary or garlic for extra flavor.
Store-bought trail mixes always seem to contain that one ingredient someone doesn't like, not to mention preservatives that no one can pronounce. Homemade trail mix bypasses both problems. In an airtight container, mix together cereals, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, chocolate chips, and anything else that seems like a tasty and healthy fit.
The shakes and smoothies at the local coffeehouse, juice bar, and ice cream shop are neither healthy nor cheap. Mixing up shakes at home is far better for the body and the wallet. Replace the milk or ice cream with yogurt, then mix in frozen fruit, ice, and protein powder for an extra shot of energy. Homemade shakes cost as little as $1 a serving.
BAKED FRUIT OR VEGGIE CHIPS
For a crispy and nutritious snack, thinly slice and bake apples, strawberries, zucchini, or sweet potatoes. Lightly oil a rimmed baking pan, distribute the slices in a single layer, and season to taste. Bake the chips at 225 degrees for several hours to dry out and crisp up.
The best thing about parfaits: They can accommodate whatever is on hand. Layers of yogurt (Greek provides more protein), granola, fruit, nuts, and seeds make for a quick, healthy, and inexpensive snack. Start by layering yogurt and "mix-ins" in a cup, drinking glass, or fancy parfait glass. Customize each layer for interest and taste. Make ahead and refrigerate until a snacky moment arrives.
Frozen treats are a perfect way to enjoy a sweet "cheat" -- popsicles are very low calorie. They're also a cinch to make. Use fruit juice (fresh or very low sugar), yogurt, or flavored water as the base, then pour into a popsicle mold, add in layers of fruit and seeds, and freeze.
Contrary to popular belief, cookies can be good for you. No-bake cookies, in particular, are a fiber-rich pick-me-up. Mix together peanut butter, oats, flaxseed, honey, and a few chocolate chips. Roll into small balls and flatten slightly. After about 30 minutes in the refrigerator, the bites harden up and the difference between soft-batch chocolate chip cookies and no-bake skinny cookies is nearly undetectable. These sweets have a long shelf life, so make several batches at a time.