In a pinch, packaged snack foods offer convenience that can be a real time saver. But relying on these familiar store-bought treats can take a toll on the wallet and waistline over time. Thankfully, there are many ways to enjoy the most beloved of brand-name snacks without spending a lot or consuming unhealthy artificial ingredients. These recipes make it easy to create your own versions of popular snacks at home that are cheaper and often tastier, even if they do take more time and effort than simply throwing a cardboard box in a shopping cart.
All it takes to create goldfish crackers at home is 8 ounces of cheddar cheese, 4 tablespoons of butter, and a cup of flour. Choose the cheddar based on desired sharpness, and pulse in a food processor with the flour and butter, plus a dash of salt. Chill the resulting dough, roll it out to cut out the familiar fish shapes (or others of your choosing), and bake in a 350-degree oven until crispy, about 15 minutes. The recipe makes about seven dozen crackers for just over $3, compared with over $5 for a similar amount of the Pepperidge Farm version from a discount retailer such as Walmart.
Recipe: Tasty Kitchen
As much a dessert as a breakfast food, sugar-laden Cocoa Puffs cereal typically costs $3 a box. This homemade version is cheaper and healthier. Substitute some of the flour for a quarter cup of almond meal and use a sweetener such as maple syrup or honey instead of typical table sugar. The resulting cereal is sensitive to some dietary restrictions but still sweet and tasty enough to please kids.
Recipe: Laura Fuentes
Cereal bars like Kellogg's Nutri-Grain bars advertise that they include real fruit, but there's often more sugar and corn syrup than actual fruit in the food-dyed fillings. It's easy to beat the $4 price tag for an eight-pack of Nutri-Grain bars simply by using the cheapest seasonal fruit as the sole ingredient for the filling. The granola crust recipe uses flavorful coconut oil in place of shortening and agave nectar in place of sugar -- although it may be more cost effective to use honey or stevia extract in place of more expensive agave.
Recipe: Super Healthy Kids
Like most other candy bars, Snickers are typically sold in individual packs for $1, and it's quite easy to make a slab of 30-plus similar candy bars at home for far less per bar. Cut costs without sacrificing chocolaty decadence by using this homemade Snickers bar recipe. Layer milk chocolate, homemade nougat, caramel, and milk chocolate again to create a batch of treats that are cheaper per bar than even buying in bulk.
Recipe: How Sweet It Is
Why spend $4 on a 12-pack of frozen Toaster Strudel pastries when you can make the same amount fresh at home for less, using ingredients you probably already have on hand? With this recipe, home-baked pies come out twice as large as the Pillsbury versions. They have 380 calories per oversize pastry when low-fat cream cheese (sometimes called Neufchâtel) is used for the frosting rather than regular cream cheese. Compare that with 400 calories for the same weight of the store-bought brand. Pick your favorite fruit jam to get creative with the filling.
Everyone has his or her favorite and least favorite components of Chex Mix, and this recipe makes it easy to create a perfect version you can't find in stores. The recipe contains so many parts that it demands to be made in bulk, but it's delicious and cheap enough to justify large servings. Roast a blend of mixed nuts, bagel chips, pretzels, Chex, and any other bite-size, savory treats along with a generous portion of melted butter and spices -- yet another opportunity to tailor the mix to your liking.
Recipe: Half-Baked Harvest
Oreos are among the most beloved of store-bought snacks, yet they contain little more than basic ingredients found on the baking shelves of most pantries. Egg, cocoa powder, baking soda, butter, sugar, and a few more kitchen staples go into this homemade version. The cookies come out larger, about three times the size of a normal Oreo, and contain about 60 fewer calories than a serving of original Oreos (three cookies).
Nacho cheese Doritos are delicious and addictive, but there's another way to enjoy the same great flavor without so much artificial cheese dust. The only major ingredients are six medium corn tortillas (50 cents) and 3 tablespoons of Parmesan (50 cents or less). Roasted together with vegetable oil, paprika, and chili powder, they make for an equally addictive chip as cheap as it is tasty.
Recipe: Snack Girl
It's hard to make something like Twinkies nutritious, but this recipe is about as close as you can get, omitting some of the stranger ingredients found in the popular Hostess snack cakes, including modified cornstarch, partially hydrogenated oil, and even beef fat. Instead, use eggs, corn syrup, flour, and a few other basic ingredients to whip up homemade snack cakes with more taste and fewer calories -- 100 fewer, to be exact, than two store-bought Twinkies.
A single 2-ounce MoonPie contains 220 calories, compared with just 190 in this recipe, provided you omit the excessive outer layer of semi-sweet chocolate. Better still, it foregoes the food dye, artificial flavorings, and high-fructose corn syrup in the store-bought variety, instead favoring natural ingredients such as coconut oil, maple syrup, and oat flour for a treat higher in fiber.
Just about any variety of fresh fruit can be made into fruit roll-ups with this recipe, although some may need added sweetener before baking. Purée the washed (and, if necessary, pitted) fruits in a food processor, spread the mixture in a paper-thin layer on a lined baking sheet, and bake on low (170 degrees, or use a food dehydrator) for six to eight hours. Calories vary depending on the fruit, but homemade fruit roll-ups contain far fewer ingredients than the Betty Crocker version, which uses artificial coloring.
Recipe: Our Best Bites