So those of you who know me or know anything about my food philosophy should not be surprised that I was in charge of snacks for both of my kids’ class parties today. What you might not know is that in my former life (pre-“mom”) I was a professional event planner. So, combining my love of planning events AND my love of real food…HELLO!! Needless to say it was a fun day for me!
Both my kids are currently gluten and dairy free, plus in our home we do no soy, and no chemicals/artificial colors/preservatives/additives (aka…crap). We use mostly natural sugars, but yes, we do still consume sugar (I try to do it in moderation!). So, it is with that set of parameters that I set about figuring out what to make to please 46 or so 4th graders and Kindergartners at their parties, while still pleasing mom. Oh, and to throw a little adventure in, it had to be peanut AND tree nut free, because one class is tree nut free and the other class was doing the party in a shared school space (if we had had their party in their classroom, then we could have done nuts because there are no allergies in that class this year!).
So hello pinterest. Don’t you just love pinterest? It’s like Super Target, Hobby Lobby, Costco, and an office supply store all mixed into one great big place that you can go in your jammies. So I went…a few times. And, you should know, that although I perused and pinned for several weeks, it wasn’t until Sunday night that I was able to finally make a decision on what we were doing. I really do work better under pressure.
We wanted one snack that was also an activity…something the kids could make or build. A chocolate donut pretzel spider was my inspiration. That turned into me baking 50 or so mini chocolate cupcakes to make them with instead of a store-bought chocolate donut. Now I like to bake and all but that didn’t sound like that much fun to me. So that turned into what we did…
Snack #1: JoJo Pretzel Spiders!
I used JoJos from Trader Joes, (which are like Oreos but without the high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil…they still have some questionable ingredients they are just LESS questionable than Oreos), Newman’s Spelt Pretzels, and organic chocolate candies. For “gluing” the eyes to the cookie I used two dots of caramel (more on that in a sec). Originally, I envisioned the legs going down (so the cookie would be lifted off the plate by the legs). But after some broken cookies and frustration from some cute kindergartners, I realized that holding the cookie down on the plate and putting the legs in flat works MUCH better.
The 5Kers each made one of these spiders, and it probably took them 5-10 minutes each. The 4th graders made 2 in that same amount of time. They were a lot of fun!
Snack #2: Caramel Apple Mouths
You have probably all seen the apple “mouths” on facebook or pinterest made with apples, marshmallows as “teeth” and peanut butter as the sticky part to hold it all together. Well, there was peanut butter, so that was out for this party. Not to mention the marshmallows….have you seen the ingredients in the big name marshmallows? Corn Syrup, Sugar, Modified Corn Starch, Dextrose, Water, Gelatin, Artificial Flavor, Tetrasodium Pyrophosphate (Whipping Aid), Artificial Color (Blue 1). (They do realize that marshmallows are WHITE, right? So blue dye makes perfect sense.) So basically they are a cute little package of GMO corn (turned into sugar), GMO sugar beet (sugar), more GMO corn, more sugar, and artificial flavors, colors and preservatives. Maybe they aren’t so cute.
But, I wanted something with apples and I kept coming back to those apple treats. I also really wanted something with caramel. And then…duh…I realized we could make them with caramel instead of peanut butter! AND I could make them with good ingredients. Those big named crap filled marshmallows were out, but there are plenty of homemade recipes (that I have yet to try) AND there are also Elyon Marshmallows. The bag I got at the organic grocery store had only sugar, tapioca syrup, water, kosher fish gelatin, tapioca starch, and natural vanilla flavor. They are wonderful. Sadly, the company has changed a little and is now doing corn OR tapioca for the syrup and starch. I suppose it is still better than all those other ingredients but this change will lead me to try making my own marshmallows the next time I need them and can’t find the good Elyon ones on my store shelves anymore. I just really prefer not to have any potential GMOS in our world (corn syrup is most likely from GMO corn). I will put a link to them at the bottom just in case you want to check them out!
Then there is the caramel. I am sure you can already guess that those square caramels you buy at the grocery store probably aren’t in my pantry. You would be correct. They contain corn syrup, sugar, skim milk, palm oil, whey (from milk), salt, artificial flavor, soy lecithin. Again with the GMO corn, soy and, most likely, sugar beet plus a few more GMOS from what the cows were fed that gave us the whey and skim milk. And skim milk? That’s ironic considering you use heavy whipping cream to make real caramel…as in just the fat part of the milk. So, back to pinterest I go. Now you need to know that caramel is a) SO easy to make and b) CLEALY going to be served in heaven some day. And it will take great willpower on my part not to just put a straw in it and drink what is leftover.
I made 2 kinds of caramel..one with dairy and one without. The non-dairy one was DELICIOUS, but too liquidy for this application. So we will just enjoy dipping anything I can find in that one over the next week! So I let my non dairy son have a little bit of the dairy version, though I am already regretting that choice. We all pay the piper when we make bad food choices. For him pasteurized dairy = bad.
Here are the recipes I used:
Dairy version found at Heavenlyhomemakers.com
Non dairy version at anediblemosaic.com. Well, technically this does have 1 T of butter in it. You could use ghee instead or play around with omitting it altogether. FYI, I never got mine to thicken up quite the same as the dairy version. Here is the coconut milk I use. It is a BPA free can and contains no gums or additives!!
As for the apples…just buy organic ones. Please. There are SO many pesticides on apples it is ridiculous. Apples top the EWG’s list of pesticide laden food for a reason.
Now we have to assemble…ha! I wish I had a picture of me this morning trying to spread the refrigerated caramel on the apples to make 24 “mouths” in the 30 minutes I had between putting the kids on the bus and leaving for the first party. Sort of a laughing or crying moment…and I learned a few things. The biggest thing I learned…do yourself a favor and put some slightly warmed caramel in one of the Decorator Bottles from the Pampered Chef. Then you just squeeze the bottle to dispense. It was so easy and SO much prettier and less messy than a butter knife. Find your local PC rep and order one now…before Christmas cookie baking. You’re welcome. (If you don’t know a PC rep feel free to let me know and I can get you to a good one!! I used to sell it but don’t anymore!)
So you just squirt (or spread) on some caramel on two slices of apples, then add 4-6 mini marshmallows and sandwich them together. Super cute and easy! And a big hit with the kids!
Snack #3 – Veggies
GASP! Veggies at a class party?! Can we do that? Hell yes we can! I really wanted to do the veggie plate in the shape of a big candy corn but then I thought “what kids really eat raw cauliflower?” Not most. Even my adventurous real foodie kids sort of look at me sideways when I give them raw cauliflower. And yellow peppers are EXPENSIVE. So I opted for carrots and ranch dip. I figured they were orange and it’s Halloween. Then I found tri colored baby carrots and the deal was done. Yellow, red(purplish), and orange ones…if that doesn’t scream harvest I don’t know what does. The kids think these are so weird and you really are getting some additional vitamins in them just by changing up the color! Check out the inside of the reddish-purple one!!
Now about that ranch dip…. Salad dressing is a real foodies’ Achilles heel. Seriously…even the good ones…they suck. I have read the labels of hundreds of bottled salad dressings and the bad ones are just a bottle of chemicals. But even the “good” ones have things like vegetable oil and xanthum gum. I am not deficient in xanthum gum to my knowledge, so I don’t want it in my food. (I recognize that it isn’t likely terrible for you in small quantities, but it just doesn’t need to be there.) And I won’t start on vegetable oils…except to say you should stop eating them. They are not healthy for your heart in any way, shape, or form. So, BACK to pinterest I go (what did we DO before pinterest?)!
There are lots and LOTS of ranch dressing recipes, all with slight variations. I chose this one from Deliciously Organic for the dairy version. Since I don’t buy mayo for the same reason I don’t buy salad dressing, and I just didn’t feel like making it just for this (especially because I make mine with some coconut oil and I’d have to forgo that for the class parties), I chose to use full fat, organic plain yogurt instead. So, right there I was missing some flavor, though I couldn’t pinpoint what. I added just a pinch of sugar, and a little bit more of the spices. I’d like to try it again with mayo and see if it is the right version for us. The kids, however, enjoyed it!
I also made a dairy free ranch for my son. However, that one didn’t turn out right. So, I will keep looking for another!
Whew!! How did it go in the end? The kids all seemed happy. Mostly empty plates were put into the garbage cans! Let me be clear and state that I was NOT going for all “health food”. I was going for party food clear of all the junk that at it’s best, sends most kids into a behavior frenzie and may be a big contributor to all those dark circles I saw under the eyes of those little peanuts today, and at it’s worst will send some kids into a 2 week-long temper tantrum or asthma flare up or eczema flare or so many other health issues that you might not even connect to food. Yes there was (quite a lot of!) sugar, but I still feel good about the product that was put out! And I got thanked by more than one mom for making sure there was no junk in the snacks. Some of them looked SO surprised!! I wish is wasn’t so unusual!
I hope this can be your encouragement that you CAN provide better snacks in the classrooms and it CAN be just as delicious, or even MORE delicious, than all the junk that sometimes ends up there!
If you have had good luck incorporating better quality treats in the classroom, please share what you did!!
Here is a link to the marshmallows..though these are the ones that may now contain corn. They may still have the corn free ones at your local organic grocery store or co-op! Amazon seems to only sell the mini ones in a 12 pack. Here is a link to an individual bag of the big size marshmallows as well.
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