Ten Snacking Tips for the Busy Parent

As a super-busy mom, I must admit that I had a “devil’s advocate” conversation with Andrew early on about the reality of a suburban mom’s chances of feeding her family truly unprocessed food for a whole month. I explained that my schedule and current lack of a local grocery store made it extra difficult. But I said I would take this challenge as an opportunity to more closely evaluate the food choices I was making and consider whether there are ways to realistically improve our diet. My family’s diet is pretty darn good but at close inspection, many corners are cut in the name of convenience and speed. So I thought it would be helpful to share some food replacements and new choices a busy parent can realistically implement. Because I have a teen and a tween who can eat continuously and arrive home from school famished and in need of immediate gratification, my list is largely focused on snacking and quickly prepared foods.

Seaweed Snack

1. Kids craving a crunchy, salty chip? Try seaweed instead – If you go to the Asian section of your regular grocery store, Trader Joe’s, or to an Asian market, you will find packages of crispy seaweed. Read the ingredients carefully – some might have MSG added – yuck. But there are brands that are just seaweed, oil, and salt and possibly soy sauce. I know the oil and soy can be unprocessed problems, but if you read the package, you’ll see this is a far better choice for snacking than so many processed snacks found in the snack food aisle of the store. Tasty, crunchy, and low in calories. Good accompaniment for some leftover steamed rice as well.


2. Edamame! Another no-brainer for unprocessed. They are unprocessed soy beans by definition, requiring just a zap in the microwave. Add a little salt and pepper and one of nature’s perfect foods is ready to eat. You can buy them in the shell or already shelled. And it’s fun – you pick them up with your hands then suck out the beans with your mouth, discarding the shell in another bowl. Haven’t found too many kids that won’t grab for them if I put them out for a snack break.

3. Homemade Applesauce – It’s really easy and so much tastier than the processed stuff in little cups or plastic jars. Other than the initial peeling and cutting, there is not much to it. Just be sure you will be home for about an hour to let it simmer on the stove. Or, you can make it in the crockpot — turn it on and forget it while you head off to work, errands, or your daily chauffeur duties. (Try Crockpot Applesauce or Regular Applesauce — in both recipes replace the refined sugar with an appropriate unprocessed substitute; I find that most cooked fruit requires less sweetening than the recipes call for.)

Hearts of Palm

4. Hearts of Palm. “Mom, I’m starving!” is a frequent exclamation in my house, usually about ten minutes before dinner is ready. Don’t want to put too much effort into those hunger pangs but you can’t stand to hear the whining? Try organic hearts of palm. I can’t attest to their unprocessed nature but as snack foods go, they are fat free, low in calories, and actually contain some protein. Look for organic varieties at Trader Joe’s. And yes, they really do come from palm trees. And yes, I have seen young children eat them. Give it a try.

Pancake Mix, Maple Syrup, and Honey

5. Pancakes – Somewhere between that crucial business meeting you were almost 20 minutes late to and the 3rd carpool of the day, did you decide to buy Aunt Jemima Complete Pancake Mix? I admit I’ve done it. But one day I tried Aunt Jemima Buckwheat Pancake mix (now unavailable) and my kids loved it. So I searched for a replacement and found Bob’s Red Mill Buckwheat Pancake Mix. If you think your kids will hate it, try mixing it half/half with your traditional pancake recipe or mix to get them used to it. It worked for me and now I can make 100% buckwheat pancakes and they are perfectly satisfied.

Some unprocessed add-ins to your pancakes? Mash up bananas in the mix, add in blueberries or strawberries or raspberries while they are cooking. Chocolate chips are another crowd-pleaser. Another tip — make extra mix so the kids can make their own creations when they get home from school. It will be good in the fridge for a couple days.

[Andrew’s Note: I’m partial to Bob’s Organic High Fiber Pancake Mix, and they also have a Gluten-Free Pancake Mix. However, this month they might not pass the Kitchen Test, strictly speaking.]

6. If you give a kid a pancake, then you have to give him syrup. So try buying real maple syrup instead of the fake, processed maple-flavored stuff. And if you just can’t get your kids used to the idea of real maple syrup, try raw honey, some of that homemade applesauce you just made, peanut or almond butter, or maybe even some apple butter.

Organic Strawberries

7. Fresh fruit smorgasbord instead of a processed chip and cracker frenzy — hit the local  farmers’ market and buy several types of fresh fruit — whatever looks yummy. When you put out a snack, put out a few choices. Kids love selection — it gives them power. 🙂

And don’t sell the great banana short. Take it out of its shell and slather some unprocessed peanut butter and jelly on it. Or slice it up and sauté it in a pan with a little butter and cinnamon and a touch of raw sugar. Your kids will think they are eating dessert.

8. Smoothies – Start with your fresh fruit smorgasbord, add some naturally sweetened yogurt like Cascade brand from Whole Foods, some fresh orange juice, a little ice, and blend it up. Just as good as Jamba Juice with a little practice. Good for breakfast or a snack. [Andrew’s Note: Try using my Smoothie Flowchart!]

Homemade Uncrustables

9. Make your own “Uncrustables.” Pampered Chef sells a gadget called a “Cut-N-Seal” that I picked up at a neighborhood gathering. If your kids aren’t into crust or just like the idea of the uncrustable processed frozen sandwich, try making your own. It’s really easy if you have a Cut-N-Seal. Just need two pieces of bread, whatever filling you want and press. You can make a bunch of these sandwiches in advance and freeze them just like the Uncrustables for quick lunch-making on a busy morning. You’ll end up with extra bread but you can save it up and make bread crumbs out of it. Or make a “bird’s nest egg.” Put the outside of the bread in a pan with a little butter, crack an egg in the center, and you’ve got a fun snack, breakfast, or quick dinner.

10. Buy some natural hummus (or make your own) and serve it with carrots and snow pea pods for dipping. A snack you and your kids can both enjoy.

Bonus #11. Hooked on Oreos? Try Paul Newman’s O’s instead. The ingredient list is far superior and they actually taste like you are eating a treat.

About the Author

Beth Lee is the kitchen-table storyteller you wish lived next door. Formally a Silicon Valley marketing professional, in 2010 Beth realized she’d rather talk about pita chips than memory chips and started her food blog OMG! Yummy.  Beth is also a freelance writer, teaches cooking classes, and co-leads a worldwide virtual cooking community called Tasting Jerusalem that explores Middle Eastern Cuisine. You can find Beth talking about food on FacebookInstagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.

A photo of Andrew Wilder leaning into the frame and smiling, hovering over mixing bowls in the kitchen.

Welcome to Eating Rules!

Hi! My name is Andrew Wilder, and I think healthy eating doesn’t have to suck. With just three simple eating rules, we'll kickstart your journey into the delicious and vibrant world of unprocessed food.

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October 27, 2010 10:42 pm

One thing that I see as a thread running through a lot of Unprocessed posts, including yours, is that it’s easier to make good food choices when the choices are between two good foods. That is, if you buy potato chips and fruit, the kids might choose the chips. But if the choices are celery-and-peanut-butter and fruit, either choice is a good one, so no one loses. This has to start at the shopping stage, and I love that you’re giving such good ideas for good choices.

Reply to  Serene
October 28, 2010 12:04 am

That’s a really good point. Although I don’t have kids of my own, I’ve been told that kids will eat what’s in front of them — as long as they’re used to that being “the way it is.” As Beth mentioned, kids love choices because it gives them “power.” I suppose we all like to be empowered, actually! 🙂

Reply to  Andrew
October 28, 2010 6:05 pm

Serene and Andrew – you both make a great point. Kids and adults (at least in my house) are the same – if the junk food is there, it will be eaten. If it’s not, they’ll eat something else. Having said that, I firmly believe in all things in moderation, so if the kids (or adults) eat some junk food once in a while, I don’t worry about it. As Serene points out, it starts at the grocery cart stage and it’s the carts filled with nothing but marginal choices that you really have to worry about. I’ve been proud of the fact that my kids are firmly aware of the choices they are making and know the difference between a healthy choice and a junkie choice and will even request healthy desserts if they feel like they’ve tipped the scale on junk that day. I guess that’s what Unprocessed… Read more »

October 26, 2010 4:00 pm

Thanks for a great suggestion! I have realized that the key to eating healthy with a busy schedule is definitely the freezer. Hadn’t thought about pre-making waffles though. We make pancakes or waffles every Sunday and I always make extra batter – I should start stock-piling. 🙂

October 26, 2010 12:38 pm

Make those pancakes as waffles instead, and freeze them. Then just pop them in the toaster, just like Eggos. The kids will never know the difference, until they try their friends Eggos, and they don’t taste as good as yours.

October 25, 2010 9:56 pm

Wonderful, wonderful tips!
My husband eats the seaweed, but I can’t make it past the YUCK factor (although I eat it in sushi). I think I’ll try it again.

my kids ADORE edamame — and it’s so good for them. I’ve never tried hearts of palm, and I may have to give it a shot.

Reply to  Dianna
October 26, 2010 3:55 pm

Dianna – see if you can find the Korean version of the seaweed at your local Asian or Korean grocery store (if you have one nearby). It might help you get past the YUCK factor – it’s really good. Glad to hear your kids already like edamame – such a great snack. I like the bottled hearts of palm best that they sell at Trader Joe’s. Hope the kids like it. If not, try it in a salad with tomatoes and avocado with a simple vinaigrette. But my daughter just munches on them plain and loves them.

Reply to  Dianna
October 27, 2010 8:53 am

I think they taste like the ocean. Makes me smile. The ones that are sold for “snacking” rather than rolling are thinner, so they kind of dissolve in your mouth – not nearly as chewy as the rolling nori sheets. Might help with the “yuck” factor?

I found some packages of snacking nori seaweed at Ralphs (of all places) yesterday. Grabbed two packages and ate my way through them in a few minutes. Love when they use sesame oil and a little sea salt. So delicious, and, especially when compared with potato chips, so much better for you!

My local TJ’s has been selling them in little foil-wrapped trays, right near the registers, for about a buck. Two servings per pack (yeah, right).

October 25, 2010 9:10 am

Great tips Beth–I’m going to hunt down those organic hearts of palm on my next trip to TJ’s. Thanks!

Reply to  Chris
October 26, 2010 3:50 pm

Definitely go for the TJ’s version – the ones I show in the picture from Whole Foods were not quite as good as the TJs version and they were, of course, a little more expensive. Hearts of palm also makes a great salad with tomatoes and avocado. Very yummy. A simple oil and vinegar dressing is all you need.