Easy Healthy Birthday Party Snacks

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My eldest just had her seventh birthday party and it was a blast. For pre-cake munching we offered the kids chocolate-dipped strawberries, fruit kebabs, and cheese pinwheels. The strawberries were the most popular by far. Next time I’ll just make 300 of those and call it a day.

The cheese pinwheels were the least popular, but I’ll offer you the recipe anyway. I’ve got to put some sort of variety out there just so I can say I tried. The adults were more than happy to pick up the slack and graze away.

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Cheese Pinwheel Recipe

4 ounces cream cheese
1 cup shredded orange sharp cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 sliced loaf soft whole wheat bread

In a small bowl, mix together the cream cheese, cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, salt, and garlic powder. Set aside.

Cut the crust off of a slice of bread and flatten it with a rolling pin. Spread 1 tablespoon of the cheese mixture on the flattened bread. Roll up the bread and wipe off any excess cheese. With the seam side down, slice the roll into 1-inch rounds (with a small serrated knife if you have it). Store covered in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Yield: 70 pinwheels
Prep-time: 20 minutes

 

[donotprint]By the way, the cake was a HUGE hit.

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Homemade Apple Chips

[donotprint]This easy recipe for homemade apple chips is a new favorite at our house. My kids love them. I love them. Everyone’s happy. It’s been a while since I made something so simple yet brilliant. Hooray Apple Chips!

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Apple Chips Recipe

I used some Macoun and Empire apples to make these and they didn’t require any measures to prevent browning. If you think your apples will brown excessively, dip them in a solution of 2 cups water and 2 tablespoons lemon juice right after they have been sliced.

3 medium apples
Cinnamon sugar

Preheat oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.

Wash and core the apples using an apple corer. Slice off the a 1/4″ of the top and bottom of the apple and discard. Slice the remaining apple using a mandolin set to 1/8″ thick.

Spread the apple rings out onto two parchment-lined baking sheets. Try to avoid overlapping the rings. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon sugar.

Bake for approximately 3 hours, rotating once or twice. Start checking on them around 2 hours. They may be slightly pliable out of the oven, but should crisp up when cool. Serve or store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Note: I’ve also made these same chips using a food dehydrator set to 155 degrees Fahrenheit for around 6 -8 hours.

Yield: approximately 30 chips (not enough!)
Prep-time: 5 minutes
Bake-time: 3 hours 

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Pumpkin Dots

[donotprint]Here’s my tribute to Jim’s Pancakes, a blog authored by a dad who is insanely creative when it comes to pancakes. My kids loved these little pancakes and gobbled them up drizzled with pure maple syrup.

Pumpkin dots aren’t much more trouble to make than regular pancakes if you have a squeeze bottle. They cook very quickly.

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Pumpkin Dots Recipe

1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 large egg, beaten
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (plus extra for cooking)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. Set aside.

In another medium bowl, stir together the milk, pumpkin puree, egg, butter, and vanilla. Add the flour mixture and stir until combined. A few stray clumps are fine.

Transfer the batter to a squeeze bottle by pouring it in slowly or using a wide-mouthed funnel.

Warm up a non-stick skillet over medium to medium-low heat. Place a teaspoon or two of butter in the skillet. When the butter is melted and starts to sizzle, squeeze 1/2-inch wide dots into the skillet at least 1/2-inch apart. Cover and cook for one minute. The top of the dots should be set with the occasional hole formed by a bubble. Check the bottom side of one of the dots to make sure they are golden brown. The dots do not need to be flipped. Serve warm with syrup or cold with milk. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two days.

Yield: 6 cups of dots
Prep-time: 10 minutes
Cook-time: 30 minutes

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Caramel Corn

[donotprint]You’re looking at my family’s recipe for caramel corn nirvana. It disappears all too quickly when snack time rolls around. I made a few test recipes with honey and/or peanut butter. I tried to come up with a “healthy” version. Really I did. But once you’ve tasted caramel corn perfection, it’s hard to compromise much more than this.

I did manage to health it up a bit by decreasing the sugar and butter and replacing the corn syrup that most recipes call for. But even so, it’s still full of refined sugars and fat, just a little less than most. If you love caramel corn like I do, it’s worth it!

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Caramel Corn Recipe

 

Do not allow children to do much more than observe from a distance as the caramel coating gets extremely hot. Also, try to remove any unpopped kernels from the mix. Eating them is jarring when they are coated with baked-on caramel.

This recipe calls for a candy thermometer for making the caramel mixture. One that can be mounted on the side of the saucepan with a clip is easiest and safest. The mixture doesn’t cover as much of the bottom of the thermometer as it should. But it does rise a bit once it boils and manages to get a decent reading.

1/3 cup unpopped popcorn kernels
1/2 cup shelled lightly salted peanuts (optional)
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup brown rice syrup OR Lyle’s Golden Syrup
1/2 cup brown sugar, tightly packed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.

Pop the popcorn via your preferred method.

Lightly grease a large mixing bowl with spray oil. Pour in popped popcorn and peanuts, if desired. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and the syrup and bring to a low boil, stirring frequently. Clip a candy thermometer onto the saucepan. Bring the mixture to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. This should only take a few minutes with the mixture at a boil. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla and baking soda. It will foam a bit.

Pour the hot caramel mixture over the popcorn and peanuts. Stir gently but vigorously with a rubber spatula until the popcorn is evenly coated. Spread the caramel corn evenly onto a parchment-lined jelly roll pan (a baking sheet with raised sides). Take a couple minutes to spot and remove any unpopped kernels.

Bake for 50 minutes, stirring once halfway through. The caramel will darken as it bakes. Allow the popcorn to cool for a couple minutes on the jelly roll pan. Once it is cool enough to touch, separate the pieces with your fingertips a few times. Once it is completely cool, the pieces should no longer be sticky. Serve or store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Yield: 8 cups (a little more with peanuts)
Prep-time: 15 minutes
Bake-time: 50 minutes

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Apple Sage Quesadilla

I’m feeling oh-so back-to-basics with this little bundle of dried sage hanging by my kitchen window. For a recent lunch, I used some of it in a quesadilla with apples and cheese. It was delightful.

2 8-inch flour tortillas
1 1/2 – 2 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, sliced thinly
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 small apple, peeled and coarsely grated
7 – 10 dried sage leaves, crumbled into bits

Place one tortilla in a skillet over medium heat and cover evenly with cheeses, apple, and sage. Top with second tortilla and cook until the bottom tortilla is golden brown and cheese is starting to melt (around 5 minutes). Flip the quesadilla with a stiff spatula and cook for a few more minutes or until the tortilla is golden brown. Transfer quesadilla to a cutting board and allow to cool for a couple minutes. Cut into 8 wedges with a large knife and serve.

Yield: 8 wedges
Prep-time: 5 minutes
Cook-time: 8 minutes

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Dimply Plum Muffins

This recipe, adapted from Dorie Greenspan‘s Dimpled Plum Cake, is a new favorite chez nous. I’m still in awe of how well the plum works in this recipe. It is best to use plums that are ripe but still firm espiecally if you’d like some of the muffins to be edible the next day. Plums that were mushy to begin with tend to get ugly sitting overnight.

3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
3/4 cup oat flour
1/4 salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom (if you don’t have any, use ground cinnamon)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs, beaten
1/3 cup canola or safflower oil
Zest of one lemon, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 small ripe plums, halved and pitted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Grease a regular muffin tin with butter or cooking spray.

Cut the plums into two halves along the crease and remove the pits. Set aside. When I accidentally mutilate the plum trying to get the pit out, I just put it in the batter pit side down.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the flours, salt, and cardamom. Set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, cream together the butter and the brown sugar. Add the eggs and mix well. Add the oil, lemon zest, and vanilla and stir to combine. Add the flour mixture and stir well.

Transfer a scant 1/4 cup of batter to each muffin cup in the prepared pan. Place one plum half into each cup pressing down slightly so that it is firmly nestled in the batter.

Bake on the center rack for 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the batter comes out clean. Rotate once during baking. Allow the muffins to cool for 2 minutes in the pan. Use a knife to gently dislodge the muffins and transfer them to a cooling rack to cool completely. Serve once cool, paying special attention to the plums as they stay hotter longer.

Yield: 12 muffins
Prep-time: 20 minutes
Bake-time: 15 minutes

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Stone Fruit Salsa

Even though I’ve been eating peaches, plums and nectarines for what seems like weeks on end, I couldn’t stop eating this salsa. If only I could sneak a little jalapeno into the mix, it would be stellar.

My youngest tentatively snacked on this dip even though she saw me nonchalantly cutting up the yellow tomatoes. She is (currently) not a tomato fan. It was either a moment of genius on my part or dumb luck that she even tried it; most likely the latter.

1 medium ripe plum, pitted and chopped
1 medium ripe peach, pitted and chopped
1 medium ripe nectarine, pitted and chopped
1 medium yellow tomato, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped purple onion (optional)
1 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 1/2 lime)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

In a small bowl, mix together the plum, peach, nectarine, and tomato. Add the cilantro, onion, lime juice and salt and stir until they are well distributed. Serve with tortilla chips.

Yield: 2 cups
Prep-time: 10 minutes

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Pie for Breakfast! (Granola Tart Shells)

These tart shells are super easy to throw together and there is no rolling out of the dough. They take as much time and effort as throwing together a batch of cookies. I still love cookies, but these are a delightful and healthier alternative that can serve as a breakfast treat, snack, or dessert.

Whenever any kind of fresh raw fruit is piled into tart shells, the kids are completely on board. My favorite way to fill it up so far is with fresh chopped peaches, strained yogurt, and honey. Add a dash of cinnamon on top if you dare.

The only warning I should give is that it isn’t the easiest crust to cut up. It’s on the hard and crumbly side. So, don’t hate me if the kids (or grown-ups) make a mess.

1/2 cup white whole wheat or whole wheat pastry flour
2 cups oats & honey granola (I use store-bought)
3/4 cups walnut pieces
Pinch salt
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons virgin coconut oil, melted

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place the flour, granola, walnuts, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Run the food processor for approximately 30 seconds or until the mixture resembles large crumbs. Drizzle the honey through the feed tube of the food processor and incorporate for a five seconds. Then pour the melted and butter and coconut oil through the feed tube with the machine running and process until the mixture starts to come together.

Take one large golf ball-sized portion of dough at a time and press it gently into a 4-inch round tart pan with removable bottoms until it covers the bottom and sides of the pan.  You should have enough dough to make 8 shells. Place the filled tart pans on a baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.

Place baked shells on a cooling rack and allow to cool completely. To serve, remove gently from tart pan by popping up the removeable bottom. The shells may be stored in the pans in an airtight container for up to two days.

Yield: 8 4-inch tart shells
Prep-time: 20 minutes
Bake-time: 10 minutes

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Homemade Blueberry Fruit Leather

Who wants to place a bet on how soon my kids are going to get a cavity? I can’t stop making dried fruit purees this year and it is going to be my downfall.

Well, que sera sera. Frankly, not a bad way to go.

Dehydrated fruit purees I’ve posted about already such as the Strawberry Roll Ups and the Polka Dot Roll Ups contain very small amounts, if any, added sugar. For this reason, they are thinner and a little more brittle than traditional fruit leather. When fruit puree is loaded up with sugar the finished product is thicker and more flexible.

Turns out it doesn’t take gobs of honey to make thick fruit leather, just a 1/4 cup is necessary for this recipe. It’s not super sweet like grocery store fruit leather. I think it’s just right. 

1 pint fresh blueberries
3 tablespoons water
1/4 cup honey
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 teaspoons lemon juice

Heat the blueberries and water in a medium saucepan over med high heat until it comes to a low boil. Reduce heat to medium low so that the mixture is at a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove saucepan from heat and add the honey, applesauce, and lemon juice. Puree the mixture with a hand/immersion or regular blender until smooth.

Prepare a 15 x15-inch dehydrator tray with a lightly greased liner. Pour the blueberry mixture onto the middle of the lined tray and spread it out evenly with a large offset spatula or a spoon until it is 1/3-inch thick. It should be an approximately 12 x 12-inch square. Having the outside edges thicker is fine as they tend to dry more quickly.

Insert the tray into the dehydrator and set the temperature to 135 degrees Fahrenheit. Run the dehydrator for 8 to 10 hours. The finished fruit leather may have a couple sticky spots on the surface, but for the most part it should be dried yet pliable.

Remove the fruit leather from the tray. Cut with a knife or scissors into individual servings. Wrap pieces in wax paper. Store in an airtight container.

Yield: 10 pieces
Prep-time: 15 minutes
Drying-time: 8 – 10 hours