A better way to snack

In an excerpt from The Cleaner Plate Club, cookies, popcorn, and even chips you won’t regret giving to your kids.

Chocolate chip cookies (Ekaterina Smirnova / Globe photo)
By Beth Bader and Ali Benjamin
January 9, 2011

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Most parents are familiar with the scenario: a hungry toddler who’s gone too long without refueling and collapses into a tear-stained puddle on the floor. As moms, we have lived it ourselves. A few too many times.

With their rapid metabolisms and small bellies, young kids need a pick-me-up between meals. By the time they’re school age, children need snacks to stay alert and have sufficient energy for homework, sports, and other activities. Yet when we walk down the grocery aisle labeled “snacks,” we can’t help but notice that most packaged snacks are just clever rearrangements of simple starches, salt, oil, and artificial flavorings. Even snacks that appear healthful are often no better than candy; many of the leading granola bars are higher in sugar than cookies. It’s no wonder nutrition experts say that kids’ snacking habits undermine good health. These recipes offer a better way to snack.

Whole-grain chocolate chunk cookies

Makes about 30 cookies

Dark chocolate, less butter, and whole grains take the edge off the guilt in this version of “monster cookies.” Use natural peanut butter, with no added fats or sugars.

1½ cups whole-wheat

pastry flour

1 cup quick-cooking oats

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

¼ cup canola oil

2 tablespoons butter

¾ cup granulated sugar

¾ cup brown sugar

¾ cup chunky peanut butter

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

12 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chunks

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine flour, oats, baking soda, and salt, and mix well. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the oil, butter, and sugars, starting on low speed and finishing with a couple of minutes on high. Add the peanut butter, eggs, and vanilla, and mix well. With the mixer on low, slowly beat the dry ingredients into the peanut butter mixture, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. The dough will be very thick. Fold in the chocolate chunks.

Using your hands, form cookies in 3-inch rounds on a baking sheet; you will have to press the dough together a bit. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, until there’s just a hint of brown on the bottoms of the cookies.

Make-your-own microwave popcorn

Makes about 8 cups

Small brown paper bag

¼ cup popcorn kernels

Extra-virgin olive oil or melted butter, to taste


Place the popcorn kernels in the brown paper bag. Fold over the top of the bag 2 or 3 times (do not staple or tape) and place bag on its side in microwave. Cook on high for 1½ to 2 minutes (varies by microwave), or until there are about 2 seconds between pops.

Remove the bag from the microwave, add the oil or butter and salt to taste, and shake until the kernels are coated.

Serve hot, in the paper bag or in a bowl.


Cinnamon-sugar popcorn

Follow the recipe for Make-Your-Own Microwave Popcorn, incorporating the following changes:

Use melted butter rather than the olive oil option.

Omit the salt.

Mix 1 tablespoon sugar with ½ teaspoon cinnamon. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the buttered popcorn.

Herbed popcorn

Follow the recipe for Make-Your-Own Microwave Popcorn, incorporating the following changes:

Omit the salt.

Mix ½ teaspoon dried basil with ¼ teaspoon dried oregano, a pinch of cayenne pepper, and 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle the mixture over the buttered or oiled popcorn.

Nacho-flavored popcorn

Follow the recipe for Make-Your-Own Microwave Popcorn, incorporating the following changes:

Use melted butter rather than the olive oil option.

Omit the salt.

Mix 1 teaspoon paprika with ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, ½ teaspoon ground cumin, and ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle the mixture over the buttered popcorn.

Salt and vinegar kale chips

Serves 4

You want these chips to be both crisp and bright green. When they cook long enough to brown, they can taste burned. If you find that the chips are browning before they turn crisp, reduce the oven temperature.

1 bunch kale, 6 to 8 stems

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for baking sheet

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar, optional


Preheat oven to 350 degrees and oil a large baking sheet. Wash the kale, dry thoroughly in a salad spinner, and tear into bite-size pieces. Toss in a large bowl with the 2 tablespoons olive oil and the balsamic vinegar, if using. Rub the leaves to make sure each gets a coating of oil, to crisp up well.

Place the kale in single layer on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt to taste. Bake for about 6 minutes, then stir and turn the kale and bake for 6 to 9 minutes longer. Remove kale as it crisps, to prevent burning and to allow the remaining kale chips to get even heat. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Excerpted with permission from The Cleaner Plate Club, by Beth Bader and Ali Benjamin, published last month by Storey Publishing. Send comments or suggestions to

  • January 9, 2011 cover
  • Jan. 9, 2011 Magazine cover

A smarter way to snack

The moms who wrote The Cleaner Plate Club found in researching their book that kids get 30 percent more of their calories from snacks today than they did a few decades ago, accounting for a full quarter of their daily intake. So more than ever, they write, bad snacking habits can undermine good health. Here are a few of their tips for encouraging healthy snacking:

Be prepared. Packaged snacks are everywhere, so have a healthy alternative on hand.

Plan snacks as you would any other meal – with an eye to kids’ overall nutrition.

Location, location, location. Encourage kids to eat snacks at the table, so they avoid mindless grazing.

Be consistent. A predictable schedule goes a long way toward limiting requests for junk.

Make sure “healthy” is also convenient. Keep healthful snacks in reach and less healthful options out of sight.

Try something new.