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Healthy yet cheap snacks for kids

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Looking for healthy yet affordable after-school snacks for children? You've come to the right place.

On any given afternoon I feed up to 4 hungry - and picky! - children their after-school snacks (that's a pic above from my kitchen of the snack line-up one afternoon). My children's friends are always welcome at snack time - at the same time, I don't want to break the bank or sacrifice healthful eating. So here are some great solutions for healthy yet budget friendly snacks that I thought I'd share with you. Because my children have had dental problems in the past, I always make sure the snacks are low in sugar.

My usual rule is to offer 3 "snacks of the day" of which each child is welcome to choose as much as they want of 1, 2, or all 3 of these snacks. Each day, I change what the 3 snacks are. This especially helps if you have multiple children to feed and they don't all like the same things. It means there will be at least one item that each child will find appetizing.

1. Plain unsweetened yogurt with just a little jelly, OR honey, OR granola.

The large 1 lb tubs are usually by far the best value for money, and often are the only format that most stores stock of unsweetened yogurt. Sweetened yogurt has a surprisingly high sugar content, so I don't even think about using that. I use the Dannon brand plain unsweetened yogurt - it's very cheap, low in sugar and nice and thick. It comes in a non-fat version too, although I prefer to use the regular version for my growing kids. Unsweetened yogurt can taste pretty tart on its own, so you may need to sweeten it lightly with just a little of one of the toppings I mentioned. Kids love the ability to pick the topping - but you control the amount you add in.

2. Cornbread.

I make home-made cornbread from scratch so I always know exactly what's in it. The low cost of ingredients and uncomplicated recipe makes this a cheap and easy option. Cornbread is surprisingly low in sugar (at least with the recipe I use) as compared with other sweet breads.

Any leftover cornbread work well as lunchbox items. Or make it as a side at dinner and serve up the leftover cornbread at snack time after school the next day.

3. Popcorn.

I prefer all-natural microwave popcorn - this is harder to find, since the artificially flavored versions of popcorn are more prevalent in stores. Still, all-natural microwave popcorn is available in many generic store brands (I use Kroger brand all-natural popcorn) at a very cheap price. One bag of popcorn will easily go around several children, and it smells so delicious and appetizing.

4. Unsweetened applesauce.

Unsweetened applesauce is pretty low in sugar, but again, you have to look carefully on store shelves for this. You'll need to look specifically for one labelled "unsweetened". Don't confuse this with "traditional" applesauce: traditional is usually sweetened. Sugar content will vary between different brands, too, so the best way to do it is to look at the nutritional information on the back. This is a pretty cheap snack.

5. Pancakes with a little butter.

You can easily make these ahead of time and freeze them. Then heat them up in the microwave when the kids come home from school. I used to make my pancakes from scratch, and the ingredients cost very little indeed.

If you're willing to spend a little extra $ then you can buy pre-made frozen pancakes from the store. Be aware that it's hard to avoid artificial flavors, plus the storebought ones tend to have more sugar, but they save you time during a busy week.

6. Fresh or canned fruit.

Although higher in sugar than I'd normally like, fresh or canned fruit come packed with plenty of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, making it a good choice for growing children. If selecting canned fruit, make sure to opt for the "lite" version that are canned in fruit juice, not in heavy syrup.

7. Biscuits.

Like pancakes, I usually serve these with a little butter, or plain, depending on the child's preference. These can also be made ahead of time and frozen until needed. However, the rising price of butter has steered me away from these in recent times. Frozen ready-to-bake biscuits can be an option, although they are not usually cheap either. Still, on sale, these can be relatively cheap snacks, and are low in sugar (although high in fat).

8. Bread rolls with butter or a little jelly.

I usually buy whatever bread rolls are on sale in the bakery section of my local grocery store. This usually works out quite cheaply per serving, and makes for a filling snack.

If you want to save even more, check out the sale area in the bakery, but note that these items will usually need to be frozen or used immediately.

9. Granola bars.

Use a recipe low in sugar. Or try storebought, but it's hard to find storebought varieties that are a) cheap and b) low in sugar.

10. Homemade muffins or quick breads.

Make ahead, and freeze and reheat as needed. Use a recipe low in sugar (no more than half a cup of sugar per 12 muffins). My crew enjoy orange muffins, and they are very cheap and easy to make. Or make banana bread: it's a little heavier in sugar but an ideal way to use up ripe bananas that you can't otherwise use up in time: the picture in this post shows some of my banana chocolate chip bread, which all 4 picky eaters gobbled up!

11. Hardboiled eggs.

You can boil eggs up to a day or two ahead of time and store in the fridge. I always wait until just before eating to remove the shell for freshness. Serve with a little salt and pepper to dip into. This a cheap snack as is, and furthermore it's an ideal way to use up eggs that are nearing their use-by date and that would otherwise be thrown out.

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