Thursday, April 19, 2012

Three Cheesy Snacks Kids Love

Hi, I'm Emily and I have a cheesy pouf problem. That's not entirely true...the simple truth is that I have a cheese snack problem, and I'm not alone. My kids also really like chips and popcorn and crackers and all kinds of other snacks that are cheesy. We try to eat foods that are good for us, which means whole grains, fruits and veggies most of the time. I try to keep the snack foods to a minimum and choose more healthful versions when I can.

So as I was munching cheesy popcorn last week and reading the package (10 grams of fat!! Zowie!!), I wondered if there was another option. Could we make our own cheesy snacks that were better (leaner, cheaper, more natural, with more whole grains)? Never one to shirk a challenge, I rolled up my sleeves, finished up that bag of popcorn, and started planning.

As with most of my recipes and food ideas, I decided these snacks had to be simple and made from ingredients that were readily available. The only ingredient that might not be at your local grocery store is the one ingredient you MUST have: cheese powder. If you can't find it locally, you can buy Vermont Cheese Powder online at King Arthur Flour. 

We decided to try to make our own versions of three cheesy snacks: cheesy popcorn (sort of like Smartfood only smarter), nacho cheese tortilla chips (like Doritos without the Vitamin orange), and cheesy crackers (Cheez-its that won't give you greasy fingers). The first two are so simple your kid can do cooking involved. (Well, except for popping the popcorn.) For each "recipe" we're also sharing why you might want to make your own: of course it's fun to make stuff, but some of our snacks contain less sodium, have no GMOs, or are much less expensive than the store brand.  

Cheesy Popcorn

My friend Michelle shared this article a few weeks ago: "Popcorn contains more antioxidants than other fruits and vegetables." As if I needed another reason to eat it by the bucketload! Of course this article suggests that you choose air-popped corn without lots of extra fat or sugar, and that's how we enjoy it most of the time. But when you really want a cheesy version, just how smart is Smartfood? 

Our research tells us that a serving of Smartfood (a scant 1 3/4 cups) contains 160 calories, 10 grams of fat, 5 mg of cholesterol, and a whopping 290 mg of sodium! Can we do better with our version? This was just too easy.

We started by popping 3 Tbsp of corn, which gave us about 4.5 cups of popped corn. We sprayed lightly with cooking spray, then put the popcorn into a ziploc bag. Add 3/4 tsp of cheese powder and shake until the corn is coated. Um, yeah...that's it! Adjusted to the 1 3/4 cup serving size of Smartfood, our version has 39 calories, less than a gram of fat, .75 mg cholesterol, and only 30 mg of sodium. 

Why make your own? Our home made popcorn contains much less salt and fat; at $.11/serving, it's also almost 6 times cheaper than Smartfood. 

Nacho Cheese Chips

I really like Doritos, but I swear that when I was a kid they didn't have as much "stuff" on them. That "stuff" isn't just the Vitamin Orange I joke about (hello, artificial colors!) but also MSG, partially hydrogenated oils, and 180 mg of sodium per serving (of 12 chips. Does anyone eat just 12 chips?). I was pretty confident we could make a much less orange version of nacho chips. 

Again, easy...but this time because we cheated by starting with our favorite organic, low sodium tortilla chips. We could have started with unsalted corn tortillas and baked them, or even better, created our own corn tortillas, but that sounded too "Little Red Hen" to me and I really wanted something my kids could do on their own. The cheese and spice blend is the creative part of this snack. We mixed:

1 tsp cheese powder
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/8 tsp garlic powder
pinch of paprika
(you could also add cayenne for a bit more kick)

and added 3/8 tsp of this blend to a ziploc bag along with 1 serving of our plain tortilla chips (1 ounce). Shaky-shake to coat the chips (no extra oils necessary...they will stick on their own).

Our version has 80 mg sodium instead of 180, 4.7 g fat instead of 8, and 133 calories instead of the 150 of Doritos. The cost is just about the same: $.25/serving for Doritos and $.24 for ours. I'd make my own because there's no MSG, no artificial color, and MUCH less overall sodium. (Bonus: the organic chips we used contain no GMOs; if that's important to you, making your own makes sense.)

Cheese Crackers

So here's the final recipe, and this one really is a recipe. It's on the back of the cheese powder bag from King Arthur Flour (can't seem to find it on their site anywhere). I only changed it a little bit (that's just how I roll). Here's what you need: 

1 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour
1/3 cup cheese powder
3/4 tsp baking powder
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp vinegar in 3 Tbsp water
additional water to form dough

Mix the dry ingredients, then add in the butter until the mixture looks crumbly. (You can work the butter in with your fingers.) Combine the vinegar and water and sprinkle over the dough a bit at a time, stirring with a fork. You may need to add a bit more water to get the dough to form a ball. Chill the dough for an hour or more, then roll out on well-floured surface to make a 12 x 16" rectangle. Trim the edges, then cut into squares and prick each one with a toothpick. Bake at 375° for 14 - 18 minutes. Start checking at 10 minutes...they brown really quickly. Break apart and allow to cool. 

If you haven't ever made crackers before, let me just say they are SO much better than anything you can buy. So even though these cost about the same as what you might buy, and have about the same amount of sodium and fat and calories, it's worth making them because they are delicious. Oh, and one of the changes I made was to use whole wheat flour, so there's that whole grain benefit, too. But seriously? Make them for fun and because your kids will gobble them up faster than you can say CHEESE!

What's your favorite cheesy snack? 


  1. Ok, this will probably make you laugh. My hubby bought something like 10 POUNDS of cheese powder online several years ago from an army surplus store to put on our popcorn. I think we finally started digging into the last huge container we have been storing in the basement!! So now I have to try your recipes!! My girls LOVE Cheezits. I would love to be able to make them - sounds like a lot of work, but I'll try anything once! :)

  2. I love it! That's so funny!! My son really loves Annie's mac and cheese, and specifically requested the cheese powder "like Annie's" when I make macaroni and cheese it can taste as good as the kind in the box. LOL! He might eat it every night for dinner, but I'm pretty sure that no one else would put up with that, so I had to come up with some different recipes. There are some great ones at King Arthur, but I just like it on popcorn or even in pizza dough! The crackers aren't really too bad, time-wise--not much different from making cookies. Let me know if you try them! Thanks for reading, Amy!!

  3. Perfect! Homemade snacks are the absolute best to eat and make. Thanks for the recipes, you rock!



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