Cool summer snacks

Ah, summer… Those balmy summer temperatures tempt us with frozen treats, sugary drinks and salty snack foods — especially when we’ve got youngsters around. However, with a bounty of fresh foods and a few tricks up your sleeve, you can create snacks that are sure to satisfy.

Here are some snack suggestions to try this season:

Start with the basics

Ready to sink your teeth into something crisp and juicy? With all the fresh fruits and vegetables around, we have little excuse for not getting our daily quota. In addition to the vitamins, minerals and antioxidant benefits, these watery foods help to fill us up and satisfy our thirst.

Nothing says summer like a plate heaping with melon slices or a bowl full of fresh berries, but apricots, nectarines, peaches and grapes travel well and can be enjoyed whole or sliced when you’re out and about. Keep your freezer stocked with frozen fruit too — freezing seems to enhance the sweetness of the fruit, and you can preserve your favourite foods for later in the year. (See Savour summer all year long for the how-to.)

On the veggie side, go beyond the usual carrot and celery sticks and slice up some bell peppers, zucchini and cucumber — or pack a bag of cherry tomatoes to go. Try slicing foods in unusual shapes (like on an angle to create wide coins instead of sticks) or using blades that create a rippled texture to add visual interest.

For kids: Get them involved by letting them choose produce or harvest it fresh from your garden. A visit to a farm or farmers’ market also makes a great day trip.

Dress it up: Toss some chopped vegetables with your favourite salad dressing, cover and let it marinade for a few hours. Give it an occasional stir, and serve it up as a snack or side dish.

Go for a dip

Dunking foods is fun, but the trick is to find dips that offer nutrients, protein and fibre without adding excess fat, calories, sugar or sodium. Stick to fruit, vegetables and low-fat, whole grains (like pita wedges) to dip, and try:

– Low fat salad dressings

– Yoghurt

– Fruit purée

– Salsa (tomato or fruit-based)

– Nut butters like peanut, almond, walnut or cashew (you can warm them up a little to make them more fluid.)

– Hummus

– Bruschetta or raw/uncooked tomato sauces.

For kids: Try folding a little whipped topping into yoghurt for a lighter texture, or mix some jam into plain yoghurt to create custom flavours.

Dress it up: Look for gourmet dip mixes and prepare them with lower-fat ingredients like plain yoghurt instead of sour cream. More sophisticated tastes may appreciate the strong flavours of tzatziki, antipasto and chutneys. Endive leaves also make great low calorie dippers.

Go for the layered look

Parfaits always look polished, even when made with healthier ingredients. Show off alternate layers of fruit and yoghurt in a see-through juice glass or dessert cup.

Don’t forget to dress up the top layer too! Garnish your creation with toppings like sliced fruit, a sprig of mint, a sprinkle of low-fat granola or some chopped nuts. To add some crunch, add some high fibre cereal to the mix.

For kids: Let kids do the layering (think sundae bar, but healthier). Keep the focus on fruits, but it’s okay to introduce a “highlight” ingredient like a few mini marshmallows, some crushed cookie crumbs or a drizzle of chocolate sauce.

Dress it up: Whether roughly chopped or finely shaved, good quality dark chocolate adds some antioxidants.

Want something simpler? Dress up a fruit salad with a light sprinkle of nuts or dark chocolate shavings.

DIY frozen goodies

Craving something cold and sweet? Swap those store bought sugar-laden treats for a set of reusable ice-pop molds. (You’ll even save some cash too.)

The easy option: fill the molds with 100 per cent fruit juice, iced tea or your favourite flavour of stirred yoghurt. To switch it up, make your own juice blends, try a gourmet iced tea recipe or blend tea and juice. Alternatively, you can use fresh fruit puree instead. If you can spare a little prep time, add some chopped fruit — fresh or frozen will do.

Another easy summer favourite is frozen bananas. Simply cut a banana in half, insert a Popsicle stick in one end and freeze flat on a tray. Of course, you can dip them in melted chocolate and toss with chopped nuts to indulge a sweet tooth.

For kids: Heading out on a day trip? Freeze some drink boxes to use as ice packs. By the time you’re ready to enjoy them, they will have thawed into a slushy treat you can eat with a spoon. (Be sure to pack some scissors to cut the top off.)

Dress it up: Go for the two-toned look. Fill the molds part way with one flavour of juice or yoghurt. Once it’s frozen, top up the molds with a second flavour and return to the freezer until solid.

Make your own snack cookies or bars

Sometimes, you can’t beat the convenience of an energy bar, granola bar or breakfast cookie for a quick energy boost. However, you can get a wider variety of flavours and control the ingredients by making them yourself. Many healthier versions of the recipes are packed with good for you ingredients like blueberries, almonds, seeds, whole grains and high-fibre cereals. You can make them crunch or chewy to suit your preference, and some recipes require no baking at all.

There are a wide variety of recipes online to suit any taste or avoid allergies. Check out some new sources like Best Ever Cookie Collection and Consider the ingredients and the prep time to help you narrow down the choices.

For kids: Look for recipes that can be adapted into fun shapes using cookie cutters. Crispy rice treats can be made healthier using plain, lower sugar cereals like puffed rice or broken up shredded wheat.

Dress it up: Experiment with the recipes to include your favourite ingredients like dried cranberries or candied ginger.

Other smart snacking tips

– Make it look like more. Chop up granola bars or fruit bars into smaller pieces and enjoy alone or as part of a snack mix.

– Avoid certain foods like spices and ginger than can actually make you feel warmer.

– Be extra careful with food storage and preparation. With hot weather, food will warm up quicker and start to grow bacteria sooner. When in doubt, resting a platter or bowl on a bed of ice can do the trick.

– Keep it age appropriate. Though healthy for adults, foods like nuts can pose a choking hazard for youngsters who are developing or missing teeth.

– Keep portions under control. Experts warn we tend to supersize our snacks to meal-sized proportions and calorie counts. Offer a specific serving rather than endless munchies on a platter, for instance.

– Take a break. When we’re distracted, we eat more. Slow down and take a break to savour your snack. You’ll get more enjoyment, and you’ll consume less too.

– Sip smart. While sugary fruit punches, creamy blended drinks, juices and sports drinks aren’t bad once in awhile, they can double or even triple your snack calorie quota. Plain water is best, but you can dress it up with fruit or cucumber slices, or make some herbal iced tea. (See Drinks that pack on the pounds for more information.)

What’s your favourite summer snack? Tell us in the comments.

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