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Ask the Readers: Quick, inexpensive snack ideas for kids?


Today’s question is from Amy:

We recently moved in to a new neighborhood and have lots of kids who come over to play often, which I love! However, I need some inexpensive snack ideas for when lots of kids are playing outside and all seem to need a quick snack.

I enjoy having them all here, and don’t want to send them home every time they need a snack, but I need more ideas for summer that won’t break the bank. Thanks! -Amy

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85 Comments

  • Lisa @ Must Love Coupons says:

    Cheese and crackers or peanut and crackers. We usually find great deals on cheese here w/ stores that double coupons and can pay as low as $0.50 per Heluva Good block of cheese. It’s quick, and filling too! And there are deals on crackers all the time.

  • Wanda says:

    I cut up veggies at the beginning of the week and fill a big tub. It gets depleted through the week. Buy in bulk (Costco, Sam’s Club) to save money if you can.

    Cookies are cheap and easy too, if you like baking.

  • Lauralli says:

    Popcorn. Inexpensive and easy to keep bagged up and ready to go. With any snacks, watch portion control because many things are inexpensive when you dole out small portions–snack size, not meal size! Pretzels and animal crackers are among our favorites as well.

    • Angel says:

      if you buy bulk popcorn, put 1/4 c. in a brown lunch bag and microwave for about a minute….. is fast little mess and cheap!

  • Nancy says:

    I stock up on snacky non-perishable items like Cheez-Its. I have an “after school” crowd at my house so I match high value coupons with store deals so I have plenty on hand. If you haven’t signed up for Kellog’s Family Rewards – I would recommend it.

  • susan says:

    bananas split add little peanut butter or sun-butter if worry about allergy and nutella put together for mini sandwich. Also white grape juice in ice tray or Popsicle mold add gummy fish-freeze and serve–my rule bring back pop stick or no more popsicles.

  • Sara says:

    Popcorn, especially if you make it yourself. We just buy a jar, less than $4/22 servings, and make it on the stove. It’s easy and healthy.

  • Jaclyn says:

    HOMEMADE popcorn!!!!!!!!!!!!! We do it on the stove in my largest pot (with lid).

    1/4 C coconut oil
    1 T butter (REAL butter)
    1 C organic unpopped popcorn kernels (buy in bulk and it is CHEAP)
    salt to taste

    On medium heat melt butter and coconut oil in a large pan (that has a tight fitting lid). Sprinkle some salt in the pan and move it around until the bottom of the pan is coated. Pour in kernels. Cover with lid. Move popcorn around until it is covered with the oil and butter. Let sit on heat until you hear popping begin. Pick up and move around, set back on heat, and repeat until all the kernels are popped. Make sure to adjust heat if it seems too hot (this might take a couple of times practicing!).

    Sprinkle more salt on hot popcorn, let cool a few minutes and enjoy!!!!

    1 cup unpopped kernels makes about 10 cups popped popcorn. I use organic coconut oil and kernels and the cost is about 75 cents per batch.

  • hope64 says:

    We like to put out carrot and celery sticks. I also put out a plastic cup for each child and a big bottle of filtered water. That way you don’t get each child coming to the door for a cup of water. The rule: everyone picks up his/her cup and puts it back on the porch table before leaving the gathering.

  • Nicole says:

    Although a little more expensive, frozen grapes or blueberries can be a great addition to the cheaper things (like crackers, pretzels, or popcorn), and they are especially nice on really hot days. I think that frozen chocolate chip cookies are really good, too (they thaw quickly, but the coolness can be very refreshing). And if you make a big jug of water with some fruit in it (I especially like the flavor of a couple of strawberries in a gallon of water), that can go a long way without costing too much.

  • polskapolska says:

    I only provide water for neighborhood kids (unless I am babysitting and responsible for their care). Came to find snacks were more trouble than it was worth–either there were allergies or dietary restrictions, the kids didn’t eat the dinner that was later served, the hunger cues were really proof that the kids had enough outdoor time–in other words it worked out much better for them to return home to eat.

    • Jen says:

      I agree with you, Polska. If I have invited the children over and their parents drop them off, then obviously I’m going to provide a snack (since it is an official “playdate”). But if it is just neighborhood children, they can easily run home to grab a snack. Water in plastic cups is all I offer.

    • Heather @ My Mothermode says:

      My sister-in-law has a large crowd and has them just get water from the spigot! Same thoughts on food…cost, kids tracking in and out, allergies, mealtimes, etc. Controversial though it may be, another person I know also sends them home to their own bathrooms!

    • Sarah says:

      As a parent, I would prefer my kids be sent home if they are hungry, and only given water if thirsty. You never really know what other parents’ rules are for their own kids’ snacks, so it’s best to play it safe.

      • Amanda says:

        I totally agree with this! I have kids with intolerances/allergies. My son gets crazy hyper after drinking Capri Sun type drinks, and those are offered everywhere!!! I would offer water in cups and send kids home for snack unless it was an actual play date.

      • Liz says:

        I absolutely agree! My kids love to play next door which is great. Except, she regularly hands out popsicles or ice cream right before the time we normally eat dinner! And, her kids are allowed basically free reign over the candy jar! It can be a problem because I try really hard to limit their candy and my kids are not allowed to just help themselves!

    • Whitney says:

      I agree! I used to play at friends’ houses all the time growing up, and we never, ever were served snacks. Same thing at home! At the most, you received a small cup of Kool-Aid, and we obviously drank water if we were thirsty. This was the 80s, so I don’t know how things changed so quickly. Why does everything think it’s a horrible thing for kids to feel a little hungry? And my kids do have food allergies, so I don’t expect, nor want anyone to give them food anyway.

      If I have kids over and they say they’re hungry, I say, “Great! It sounds like you’ll be all ready to eat a nice healthy lunch/dinner when you get home!”

    • Beth says:

      I think the reader asked for snack ideas, not for anyone to give feedback on whether or not she should/should not give snack. We do water and pre-bagged crackers and popcorn. The kids that play at my house arrive at 2:45 so an after school snack is completely appropriate. Most of these kids eat lunch between 10:45-noon. None of the parents have an issue with me giving their kids the above items because I text them ask ask. People need to calm down…it’s a snack, not dinner! Most of the families in my neighborhood don’t eat until 6:30-7:00.

      • Sadie says:

        I agree with Beth. If a parent is comfortable enough to let their child go to this home, then my guess would be that the parents know each other and therefore likely know any potential issues with foods. However, if your child is out playing with friends in a neighborhood (without your presence) I would expect that would know their allergies and whether or not they should be eating X, Y, or Z…. In my opinion it is not the parent who provides the snack to make sure my child’s dietary restrictions are followed. Also, it appears this parent would like to provide snacks. As a parent myself, if a family offers something to my child, I’m okay with it, but I certainly don’t expect it. We all do things differently and that’s fine.

    • Stephanie says:

      I totally agree on this one. My home seems to be the catch all for children and teens. I provide snacks only when they were invited for a playdate or I am babysitting. Water is healthy and we could all use more of it. Too many snacks doled out early on and kids and other parents will get wise to this and the children will look for more. Time to go home when we are hungry enough to come indoors.

      • Michelle says:

        I agree. My son has multiple food allergies and this is one of my greatest fears. And yes, while he should know what he can eat, we don’t know if the food item could have been cross contaminated, or if something that he thinks is safe might be a different brand (like pringles and lays staxx – pringles contain gluten and the lays don’t, but if someone just handed him a stack of chips he wouldn’t know the difference,) he is a kid, it is hard to resist sometimes when all the other kids get a yummy snack and he doesn’t. And if I don’t know there will be food, I can’t plan to send him anything. I send neighborhood kids home.

    • Ann says:

      I agree with mostly sending kids home. Most neighbor kids eat differently than we do, and when I saw good whole wheat bread and carrots, etc. being tossed into my garbage can, that about did it for me! My kids are welcome to share candy outside, if they have it from an event, etc., and if I’ve baked a batch of cookies, I’ll let whoever’s in the yard have one, but other than that, snacks are pretty rare. When we changed how we did this, I found the neighbor kids suddenly had no problem running home to get food or waiting for dinner. We also had to cut out kids coming in for water and to use the bathroom. My kids can come in and get water for others, but I found that that we had a constantly revolving (slamming?!) back door when the other kids could come in all the time, too. With nursing babies and napping toddlers, we just had to put an end to that. Again, suddenly they didn’t have to go to the bathroom or get a drink every 5 minutes. Someday, when the little ones are bigger, we’ll probably relax the policies more, but for now, this works.

  • Christy says:

    1) A big plate of carrots, celery, & cucumbers with a little cup of ranch
    2) homemade granola bars

    • WilliamB says:

      I was wondering if anyone had suggested homemade granola bars yet. The Frugal Girl – http://www.thefrugalgirl.com – posted a good recipe for homemade granola bars.

  • Sharon says:

    Popcorn! Get an airport popper-I see them at thrift stores often enough. The kernels are cheap and kids love popcorn.

    Cereal, like Cheerios or Fruit Loops. You can often get great deals with coupons on these.

    With summer coming, cantaloupe and watermelon are always favorites.

  • Melinda says:

    You can get a large box of the popsicles in clear plastic for about $5. I think there are about 100 popsicles in the box, so they’ll last you a long time and kids love them!

  • The Prudent Homemaker says:

    Homemade popcorn on the stove (I buy mine in a 50 pound bag; a batch is 1/2 cup; I usually make a few batches for my children)

    White Bean dip with carrots http://theprudenthomemaker.com/index.php/white-bean-dip

    Homemade popsicles

  • Tracy R says:

    Bananas are almost always super cheap, and we also have a lot of animal crackers & pretzel that are super cheap, and homemade popcorn is close to free, don’t forget how easy it can be to freeze up some super cheap fruit to help cool off, too (frozen chocolate covered bananas are always a hit!)

  • Mel says:

    For drinks, this is the perfect week to stock up on hawaiian punch at Dollar General.
    Print your coupons from Coupons dot com $1 of 1

    • Danna says:

      Take that hawaiian punch and freeze it. I would imagine it would make a great freeze pop. I make Kool-aid and freeze them all the time for the kids.

  • Crystal Sweet says:

    Homemade lunchables – cheese, crackers, lunch meat
    PB&J sandwhiches
    Homemade cereal mix – store brand cereals, raisens, & whatever you want to add
    Fruits & veggies from a produce stand
    Muffins (Martha White or store brand are usually $1 or less)

  • Jennifer says:

    Saltine crackers with peanut butter, celery sticks with peanut butter, fruit on sale such as apples, No bake cookies are cheap to make, Homemade brownies, off brand chips, sliced cheese and saltine crackers, cut the slice of cheese into 4 squares and make each child 4 cracker and cheese sandwich. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

  • Georgia Gal says:

    * Popsicles ( The cheap ones that you freeze yourself. You can get 100 or so for $3.00-$4.00 at Walmart.

    * Homemade muffins, sweet breads, cookies, etc.

    * Cheese Quesadillas

    * Crackers & Cheese

    * Celery & Peanut Butter (Ants on a Log)

    * Apples and Peanut Butter

    * Pretzels

    * Veggies & Ranch Dip

    * Smoothies or Milkshakes ( fruit with milk or yogurt, great for hot summer days.)

    If you are daily having the same children over, you can ask their parents if they would contribute a snack or drink for the week. Most parents would be happy too, knowing you are helping care for their children. Hope these ideas help and you have a wonderful day~

  • Monica Johnson says:

    Costco

  • Kristin says:

    In the early summer I buy bags of baby carrots like they are candy. And my kids eat them that way too. Also celery and peanut butter, etc. I also buy those big bags of cheap popsicles for a special treat.

    As the summer goes on we eat more and more fruit, whatever is available at the farmer’s market for a good price. I buy boxes and boxes of peaches, berries, etc. They eat as they please and then if the fruit seems to be going soft, I can it or make jam….best of both worlds.

    Finally, something that makes other kids love coming to our house is that I give them free access to the garden. They eat cherry tomatoes hot from the sun, pull up as many carrots as they can eat, take corn home to their parents, “test” the apples to see how sweet they are, etc. Sometimes I take them over to the pea field for the freshest, most delicious peas in the world (we are pea and wheat farmers and so have access to literally all the peas we can eat).

    The best part about summer is the increased access to deliciously healthy food.

  • Jen Krausz says:

    I got some popsicle molds at a garage sale–fill with pudding or leftover juice/fruit/jelly from the bottom of the jar/etc.

    Also rice krispie treats usually go over well and if you get a good deal on the Rice Krispies, they aren’t that expensive.

    Homemade smoothies aren’t the cheapest but how much does a banana, some frozen strawberries and a cup each of milk and OJ cost? And for that you can get 2 smoothie servings, maybe more for littler kids.

    I also look for coupons for new varieties of snack foods where the item is practically free. Our local dollar store often has good deals on pretzels, cookies and other snacks.

  • Carla says:

    Popsicles!

  • Kat Garcia says:

    We are doing a 7 day eat at home challenge this week on our website, we have three snacks up that we made that are always a hit with our kids! Here is a link to one of them http://bit.ly/15rRteq

  • Nadia Clury says:

    I found this list of healthy snacks for kids – maybe not be quick, but they are all healthy – http://list.ly/list/1hc-healthy-kids-snack-recipes

  • Hannah J says:

    I put a great kid friendly and healthy granola bar recipe on my blog here: http://dreamingofperfect.weebly.com/1/post/2013/05/protein-consumption-and-a-recipe.html

    It’s pretty quick and shelf stable for a week; so you could make extra and have it ready on hand for the kids.

  • mel says:

    -rice cakes from aldi … spread peanut butter on top
    -homeade granola bars
    -mix peanuts and raisins
    -baked oatmeal muffins

  • Natalie says:

    I feed the neighborhood too! I have pretzels… seasonal fruit.. popcorn and Popsicles! My boys will occasionally ask to get a special snack for their friends… licorice or an snack size candy bag seems to appease them all! The other night I fed them all dinner and when they got hungry for the 3rd time that afternoon… I sent them all home 🙂 haha. They are great kids… I do all that I can to keep my kids playing on my turf, but sometimes you just need to know your limits!!

  • CJ says:

    In addition to the popcorn and fruit like others have posted about. I always have Corndog muffins ready in the freezer for the kids to munch on. They love them! They are like a mini-meal so the kids are satisfied to head back out and continue to play!

    I posted my recipe for them a while back and they are soooo cheap! (about $0.20 per serving)

    http://dealfindingfamily.com/cheap-eats-corndog-muffins/

  • Margery Hilburn says:

    Yes, like many others, I go with popcorn and ice water.

  • shannon says:

    We buy most of our fruit and veggies at Aldi so we try to keep a variety already rinsed, cut, and stored for easy snacks. We also find that raisins and dried fruit are cheap healthy snacks for the kids. I also agree that popcorn is probably the cheapest snack for a large number of neighborhood children.

  • Hollie says:

    Aldi usually has great deals on bags of apples and oranges. Watch for sales on Goldfish crackers, cereal, and Cheez-Its. I saw some people suggest popcorn, which is another great option!

  • Katy @ Purposely Frugal says:

    Fruit or veggies that are on sale that week, like apples or oranges.

  • Ali Federwitz says:

    frozen grapes

  • Jessica says:

    Popcorn! My oldest likes it sprinkled with taco seasoning and Parmesan cheese for a savory taste. I like it with cinnamon sugar when my sweet tooth goes off 🙂

    • sarah says:

      So apparently the answer to your question is popcorn! I think it got the most votes. Sometimes I’ll find freeze-ice tubes (corn syrup in a wrapper) cheaply at the end of the Summer and buy a few boxes, and freeze several at a time. The kids love them. There’s also dry cereal – like cheerios in dixie cups. My problem is the neighborhood kids and my own just throw tcups / baggies / wrappers in the yard. It’s really amazing. All boys.

    • Marisa says:

      Banana-lime popsicles. Blend 3 – 4 bananas with the juice from 2 – 3 limes in the blend. Pour into ice cube trays, stick in popsicle sticks and freeze. Perfect for a hot summer day.

  • Carol O. says:

    If you give everyone a very small cup of plain yoghurt, they will likely never ask for a snack again and then you will be home free. That is cheap! Hehehe, just kidding.

    Slice cheap white potato VERY thin, lay out one layer thick, spray with olive oil and sprinkle salt (or whatever seasoning the kids like. ie: parmesean cheese, salt and pepper, lemon pepper, Tony Chachere’s) on the slices. Heat in oven for 10 minutes+ or until crisping. This is CHEAP if you only salt them. Make 2 pans, they will go FAST. When I was a kid my neighbor skipped the cooking part and served sliced potato with salt, we LOVED them and I’ve never forgotten. 🙂

  • L Crawford says:

    LOL keep giving them the healthy option of celery and carrots or apples and raisins to eat and water to drink and you’ll find they’ll stop asking for snacks 😉

    for my own kids: I love to buy cinnamon or chocolate graham crackers or vanilla wafers. These constitute a cookie at my house 🙂

  • Doreen says:

    to make popcorn more special I like to stir in some potato chips, pretzel sticks, cheese curls, etc. You don’t have to add much to make it look pretty! and it goes over really well with all ages.

  • Penny says:

    How wonderful for you that you can always know where your kiddos are (and who they hang out with), and that all these little ones enjoy hangnig out at your house. It speaks volumes to the state of your home 🙂

    Snacks are a bit of an investment, but I’d venture that it’s wholly worth it.

    If your kids are old enough to understand a budget at all, you might give them a set weekly amount for any and all “snacks”, and then let them go to town with it one day while you do your other grocery shopping. Let them flip through teh coupons and ads and look online for coups. They’ll probably make you proud, and they’ll probably be more careful about how much is consumed come snack time.

    Another idea: have the kids grow veggies or fruit. Win-win.

    Another idea: have the kids earn snack money—mowing lawns, having a lemonade stand, holding a garage sale, etc. Win-win.

    Inexpensive foods: fruit or veggies, chips/salsa, popcorn, pretzels, water, day old bread toasted with butter and cinnamon, homemade granola, home-made yogurt (or turn that into popsicles)

    Again: kudos to you!

  • Brie - BreezyPinkDaisies says:

    Freeze Pops! They are so cheap, maybe $3 for 50 and perfect for hot summer days 🙂

  • Angel says:

    Precook hard boiled eggs and keep some in the fridge …. also toast with jelly is cheep.

  • Michelle says:

    This is our favorite play date snack:
    http://navigatingdomesticity.blogspot.com/2013/05/quick-and-easy-play-date-snack.html

  • Anne Marie @ The Oklahoma Texan says:

    I can’t comprehend NOT feeding hungry children at my house. And believe me, I get the expense. My husband used to be a youth minister. We often had teenagers at our house who annihilated anything set before them in the blink of an eye!

    I often served popcorn, chips and salsa, fruit. Baking your own snacks saves money, of course. Oatmeal cookies, blondies, things of that nature that simply require a few basic ingredients are inexpensive to make.

    I know it can get costly feeding other people’s kids, but what a great opportunity for investment in their lives. My kid is still a toddler, but I hope that when he’s older, our house will be the gathering place for his friends. Being involved in their lives is worth the extra cost of groceries.

    • Sandi says:

      I totally agree with you. We unfortunately live in a staff housing area where there are no kids the same ages as my own. But an extra $20 in homemade snacks a week is nothing compared to the experience and memories that will be made. I can understand the food allergy concern, but shouldn’t you know about these in your child’s playmate? Don’t the parents know each other? In today’s social climate, do parents really let their kids go off without knowing the families in the neighborhood?

  • Shannon M. says:

    I agree with many of the comments here. I would make something simple, like airpopped popcorn with minimal seasoning and water, and steer completely away from cookies, ice cream, etc. We had a family neighborhood, and our house was the place to hang out. Make sure your pantry and snack area is OFF LIMITS at all times. We had kids whose parents did not have snacks in the house or the fancy orange juice we liked to buy, and they would come over just to eat our food. Be clear about limits, and send them home if they don’t respect them. That may seem harsh, but I was shocked at how often I had to correct kids who came over to play, because of food issues. When I was a kid, I would have had big consequences, but that doesn’t always happen these days. However, if a child was spending the night, of course they could have OJ…with their breakfast. We aimed to be a good hostess without being a pushover.

    • katrina says:

      My sons are now young adults, but we too fed the entire neighborhood, and i don’t regret one penny that we spent. I am so thankful that i could be the mom who was home after school. Do you know how many times that i rejoiced over a report card and soothed a rough day for child, who could not wait until 5’o clock to tell their own parents. We never had much money in those days, but we had a large snack bowl on the table and an open door policy on love. Over the years, we had some kids who only stopped by to grab a snack and a hug. I am happy to say that some of these young men are still in touch and we rejoice in the role that we played in their lives. Please don’t allow the very small cost of snacks to outweigh the importance of your emotional involvment in the lives of these kiddos. They are ALL our children and we are their village

      • Sarah says:

        Thanks for this important reminder, Katrina. Indeed it is a blessing to be the one that’s home to hear all the news of the day while it’s fresh and kids are excited. Sometimes I just forget it! 😉

      • Penny says:

        Agreed!

  • Becka says:

    Popcorn, cut up veggies or fruit, pretzels, bar cookies cut into small squares, and crackers are all fairly inexpensive and child-friendly. I had a friend who would purchase special treats every now and then for her children to learn to share with their friends.

    You might want to check into getting one of those “drinking fountain” adapters for an outside faucet so the kids could get their own water to drink any time they are thirsty. This would cut down on multiple cups throughout the afternoon. 🙂

    • Sharnet says:

      I run an in home preschool with 10 children per day and about 5-7 teenage boys per day. I have leaned how to coupon shop and almost all my snacks are free or nearly free. Such as granola bars, chips, crackers, vanilla wafers, otter pops. They love pb & jelly ( get bread from the dollar store or bread store), home made pizza from french bread, bagels or english muffins. Also check out your local dollar store they have good deals. My best advice look through your frig and pantry make a list of what you have and start looking on for recipes.
      Drinks give them water. I dont think we drink enough water anyways.

  • kathy says:

    I haven’t read all the ideas so I apologize if this has already been mentioned but one thing that has worked for my kids and the friends that they bring over, no matter the age…is that I would pre-bag snacks and put out a “snack” basket. I would fill it with whatever I found on sale that particular week. When the snack basket was empty, no more snacks. They were absolutely not allowed to dig in the pantry or refrigerator. Some kids have no boundaries and before I started using the snack basket idea, it was costing a fortune to feed them.

  • Sara says:

    We seem to be the house where the kids go. So I make up gramcrackers with a peanut butter, powdered sugar, with a dash of milk frosting. They love these cookies. I also will have out a bowl of wheat thin crackers they have a new bufflo flavor which the teens love. I have 5 kids and really do not mind the extra. Sometimes they even stay for super.

  • rebeccasdelightfulhome says:

    Aldi is the place to shop! I also like Costco, but I think Aldi is a bit less expensive. I agree with the bananas & popcorn ideas. Healthy, inexpensive, AND easy.

  • Jamie says:

    In the summer kids like freeze pop so I make juice than put it in ice trays with a tooth pick.

  • Becky says:

    Two years ago, we lived in a poorer area and I fed neighborhood kids all of the time- afterschool and weekends. I suspect there were times that snack I gave them carried them over until free school breakfast the next day. I love the weekend backpack food program our school implemented because of this. What a blessing it was to me that I had enough to feed my family and to share with others. And thanks to couponing, I never begrudged that box of crackers or cereal or fruit I bought with a catalina.
    Now that we live in a more middle-income area I am way more concerned with what other parent’s wishes are than wondering if this child really hungry. But I think there is a great hospitality about feeding others that I would never want to change.
    Our cheap snacks are the same as everyone elses- popcorn, watermelon, cookies, banana muffins, crackers that cost pennies with coupons.

  • Meghan Macur says:

    Pancakes! Make a bunch of small ones and keep a bag in the fridge. Spend a little more to make them whole wheat or even add protein powder.

  • Emily says:

    I always do popcorn and watermelon!

  • We have lots of kids over too, my mantra is “because one can never have too many children around”. Some of our snack ideas have already by said by others, popcorn, fruit and veggies, granola bars (homemade), homemade bread and jam, etc.

    We’ve always said we wanted to be house that all the kids came to to play and we’ve become that house. John Maxwell calls it, “influencing the influencers”. I call it “parenting by hanging out”. And if you don’t hang out with your kids and their friends when they’re young, they won’t want to hang out with you when their teens and young adults.

    So, good job, Amy! Your harvest will be great.

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