Category Archives: Snack Time

Have a Snack: Caramel Popcorn in a Bag!

My sons and I were making this delicious recipe for caramel popcorn yesterday and I thought you might enjoy a fun snack on your holiday!  (Originally published 3/30/2009.)  Making popcorn is a great way to involve and discuss the five senses.  You can read more about the developmental benefits of cooking here, and check out this great post on cooking with kids from Simple Bites.


Cooking is a great activity to do with kids!  There are plenty of ways children can help with almost any recipe, but some recipes just lend themselves to increased interest and participation from your little culinary artists.  This is one of them!  Caramel popcorn… in a bag… in the microwave!  It’s almost magical! 

(*As with any recipe be sure to know the limits of your children and your facility’s policies for safety if applicable.  Popcorn in particular may not be suitable for certain children or allowed in specific programs.)

Start with 8 cups of popped popcorn in a large paper sack (grocery store size).  I’ve found that 1/2 cup of kernels popped in my air popper equals about 8 cups, or a little more.  (Typically I’ll sneak in some extra popcorn just to “stretch” the recipe.  That’s what growing up in a big family will do for you!)
In a microwavable bowl, combine:
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup Karo syrup
1/2 tsp salt
Microwave for 3-4 minutes, until frothy.
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp soda
Stir to combine well, and then pour over the popcorn in the bag.  Roll down the top to seal and shake to coat.  (When microwaving and shaking the bag, some of the melted butter will seep through.  Just be sure to avoid touching those parts, and particularly point them out to your little ones that might be shaking the bag.)
Microwave, the bag and all, for 30 seconds and shake again.
Repeat until you have done a total of 2 minutes in the microwave.  (The original recipe says 3-4 minutes, but that was always too much in my micro.  If you do 2 minutes and the caramel corn still looks too sticky and thick, repeat the 30 second micro and shake sessions until it looks well coated.)
When it’s done, pour the popcorn into a large bowl, and let it cool.  Enjoy!  (When we had it along with apple slices recently, the combination was a tasty caramel apple sensation….and it got some fruit in!)

Involving children in making this recipe, exposes them to math concepts as you measure together, motor skills as you both stir and shake, science concepts as heat changes the properties of matter, and certainly sensory experiences as they hear, smell, see, and taste their creation!  Cooking is a great cognitive activity in general as it demonstrates cause-effect and ordered procedures.  Most of all, it’s a great activity for bringing everyone together in a positive social interaction!


Photo by bgraphic.
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Filed under Learning through Play and Experience, Recipes - Edible, sensory activity, Snack Time

Snowy Ice Cream – Perfect for a Stormy Day

We’re crossing our fingers, hoping for a white Christmas this year.  Looks like we may end up with rain instead.  (We may just have to head for the mountains!)  For those of you with plenty of the white stuff in your local forecast, you might want to try this fun recipe for ice cream.  The main ingredient: Fresh, fluffy snow!  (Taken from this post appearing last year.)

On my first giveaway post, I asked readers to comment with their favorite snowy day activities.  Amber posted these instructions for Snow Ice Cream:

one of my favorite winter activities is making snow ice cream! we did this after the first BIG snow every year when i was a kid – it had to be a BIG snow because you don’t want to get pieces of grass or leaves in your ice cream. ( :


*fresh WHITE snow (heehee)

*a bit of vanilla extract

*a gob of half & half (milk will do)

*a smidgen of granulated sugar

*sprinkles (optional)

 instructions: mix the snow with the vanilla, half & half and sugar. put it in a bowl, top with colored sprinkles (it’s just so cute!) and eat it QUICK! ( :”

She definitely piqued my interest, and I just had to try it out with my own boys after our recent snow storm.

I started out by scooping some of the top layer of snow, and then leaving the bowls out to collect more of the snow as it fell.  You can see it was a substantial storm.  My bowls runneth over!  I brought them in and scooped off the tops into another bowl.  Once you start adding ingredients, you lose a lot of height, so you might need more snow to add back in!

I had ingredients waiting at the ready so that we could get right to work.  Following Amber’s instructions, we scooped, stirred, and tasted.

My boys were amazed as the snow seemed to magically turn into ice cream!

They said it tasted just like vanilla ice cream!  They probably would have said more, but their mouths were full.

This was such a fun activity!  It provided all of the developmental opportunities I mentioned earlier in this post about cooking with children, plus it’s a unique science experience as well as an activity your kiddos are sure to remember.

Incidentally, Amber is an AMAZING photographer!  So if you’re lucky enough to be anywhere near the Treasure Valley sometime (that’s around the Oregon/Idaho border, folks), take advantage of this little treasure!  And even if you’re not so lucky to be there in person, check out her inspiring website anyway!

For more wintry activities, click here!

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Filed under Learning through Play and Experience, Recipes - Edible, Snack Time

Travel Mix: Math You Can Eat!

 Who doesn’t enjoy a good snack to take on the road?  Here’s a snack activity that fits well in the transportation unit, that not only fills rumbling bellies, but also reinforces math concepts!

First assemble your travel mix snack ingredients.  There are so many ways to go with this!  I usually look for a cereal, salty, sweet, and fruity combination, but this is certainly a flexible recipe!  So I might go with chocolate Chex, pretzel goldfish, Craisins, and Reeses Pieces.  Or maybe some Cheerios, pretzels, Teddy Grahams, almonds, and dry apricots.  Or maybe I’d get rice Chex, pretzel sticks, raisins, marshmallows and peanut butter chips.  You just have to tailor it based on what you have available, dietary considerations, and purpose.  But the great thing is, since they’re making it themselves, you don’t have to worry too much about what everybody likes!

Gather your ingredients and a few bowls or baggies.  Have the children create their own travel mix from the ingredients, leaving out anything they don’t like.  But they don’t just dump in the ingredients willy-nilly.  That’s where the math comes in! 

You can go about this exercise in a variety of ways, depending upon your objectives and the ingredients you’re working with.  You may want to focus on one number, like 12.  Have your children count out 12 of each ingredient to add to their mix.  This gives them plenty of meaningful, yet repetitious practice counting to 12, and gives you an opportunity to observe not just whether or not they can count to 12, but also whether they are rote counting (shoveling M&Ms in as they count out loud) or using 1-to-1 ratio (counting one M&M for each number). 

You could assign measuring scoops to each ingredient and a number card to indicate how many scoops of each item goes into the mix.  This provides for a great discussion of measurement and measurement tools, while also encouraging number recognition and 1-to-1 counting as well.

You could also turn it into a game for your older children.  Using a deck of number cards, each child draws a card and decides which item to count into her mix.  So if she draws a 7 she may choose to count in 7 pretzels.  Play as many rounds as you like, until everyone has a chance to create a full travel mix.  This method gives more practice for number recognition on a wider range, as well as 1-to-1 counting again, and a little greater than less than comparison.  It also gives your child the opportunity to use some logic and planning as they consider which ingredients they want more or less of.  Some children may even discover the principle of addition as they consider that 3 marshmallows followed by 9 marshmallows means they now have 12 marshmallows!

Tailor your method to the developmental level of the children you love and teach.  Whichever way you go about it, building a travel mix is a tasty way to incorporate basic math concepts with real meaning. 

Top photo by darko d.
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Filed under Learning through Play and Experience, math activity, Snack Time

Five Fun Ways to Serve Up Some Pumpkin!

If you’re looking for some ways to make this week memorable for your little ones, try serving up some pumpkin!  You may want to use pumpkin as an ingredient (as in Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread) or use the pumpkin as the dish!  Here are five ways to serve up some fun, originally published on Halloween of last year!


I mentioned before that a pumpkin’s greatness is in part due to its hollowness. We’ve talked about floating pumpkins, pumpkin drums, and of course, Jack-o-lanterns, but perhaps best of all, a pumpkin can be hollowed out to create a bowl! You can use a cleaned out pumpkin to hold pre-made food, such as soups or a casserole, or you can actually cook in the pumpkin shell as well!  Here are five festive ways to turn your gourd into a gourmet dish!


1.  Apple Crisp!  I love making this Pumpkin Apple Bake recipe in the fall, cooking it up inside the pumpkin.  The children love using the apple peeler/slicer to help out.  I give the apples a head start by cooking them on the stove before putting them in the pumpkin and cooking it all together.  The pumpkin does soften a bit, but holds its shape as long as you don’t cook longer than 1 1/2 hours or so.  Take the opportunity to talk science and compare the cooked pumpkin to the uncooked pumpkin lid!

2.  Soups, Stews, and Chiles!  Cook up your favorite fall time soup.  Place it in a hollowed out pumpkin and serve it up from there!  Try out this delicious Potato Soup recipe or this tasty one for Chicken and Rice.  You could also use smaller hollowed out pumpkins as individual soup bowls!

3.  Shepherd’s Pie!  Because Shepherd’s Pie is basically cooked already, it doesn’t take long just to melt the cheese on top.  This helps keep your pumpkin from getting too soft.  Try this tasty recipe here.  (I omit chipotle chiles when cooking for the little ones.) 

4. Dips!  Whether you’re having something sinfully savory like this one, or going the healthy route with something like this, you can easily put your favorite dip inside a pumpkin, place it on a platter, and serve chips, veggies, or bread all around the pumpkin.

5.  I Scream!  OK, a little Halloween play on words.  Use small pumpkins to hold ice cream!  Serve up your favorite flavor with cookies on the side!


Whichever route tempts you most, start by cutting the top of your pumpkin off.  Jack-o-lantern style is usually a little too small. Don’t be afraid to cut off 1/4 to 1/3 of the pumpkin.  This gives a wider opening which makes it easier to serve food.  Hollow it out well, and then rinse.

Don’t forget to involve your children in this fun project!  Have your little ones help you hollow out your pumpkin and rinse it.  Let them help make the food to go inside as well.  (Read more about how cooking benefits the child’s development here.)  Serve it up for something truly memorable!  Don’t worry if you’ve missed Halloween.  Pumpkins are a symbol of harvest and a fun fall fixture! (Say that ten times fast!)

Enjoy a special pumpkin surprise with your little ones!

For more favorite fall activities, click here!
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Filed under Learning through Play and Experience, Recipes - Edible, science activity, sensory activity, Snack Time, Uncategorized

Book Activity: Pete’s A Pizza

Pete's a Pizza

William Steig’s books are always clever and unique.  Pete’s A Pizza is no exception.  This book, published when Steig was about 90 years old, is based on a game he used to play with his own daughter decades earlier.  The character in the story, Pete, is disappointed when the rain spoils his plans.  His dad however, turns the day around by pretending to turn Pete into a pizza.  The typical steps for making pizza take on an imaginary element (checkers for tomatoes, paper for cheese) and soon evolve into tickling and chasing until Pete, of course, is happy once again.  It’s a fun read, and one that obviously invites some light-hearted participation!

Pizza Makers

Extend this book into an activity by simply following along with the game!  Make pizzas out of children by following the same steps in the book (especially the tickling part).  You could even write out a step-by-step recipe based on the book, increasing story recall.  Add your own spin as well, introducing other toppings or silly procedures.  Story acting is great for increasing literacy skills like comprehension as well as vocabulary as the children use new words and concepts they heard in the story.

Make it Real

Of course, this book is a great starter for a real pizza making activity as well!  (Combine the two by making your own pizza, and playing the game above while you’re waiting for it to bake!)  Pizza making is a sure-fire winner with little ones!  Make a big pizza together, or give each child a small pizza to customize to perfection.  Cooking together is great, as it increases the likelihood the children will actually eat the food, since they have some ownership in it, while it also promotes a wide variety of developmental skills.  Here’s how I go about turning the kitchen into a gourmet pizzeria.

Start with the dough.  I used to use a pizza dough like this one, which is great, but I was in a pinch and running late one day so I decided to use my usual soft pretzel dough recipe, since it doesn’t require any rising time.  I have to say, I think I actually prefer the pretzel dough!  Besides being faster, it’s a little more dense and chewy, which I like.  So try either one, depending on your preference — light and soft or dense and chewy.  The children love to work the dough, kneading and rolling to their hearts’ content!  It’s loads of fun, but it’s also great for the small muscles in their hands!

Now the sauce.  This is what makes it or breaks it for me.  With a little research and a bit of tweaking, I’ve come up with our family’s favorite pizza sauce.  This recipe makes one quart.  So I usually make a batch, use half on our pizzas, and put the other half in a jar in the fridge and save it for the next pizza night, or use it on pasta for a quick lunch for my boys.  So here goes:

Incredible Pizza Sauce

In a saucepan combine:

3 (8oz) cans of tomato sauce

3 Tbsp sugar

3 tsp extra virgin olive oil

3 tsp garlic salt or granulated garlic

3 tsp good Italian seasoning

1 tsp lemon juice

1/2 cup water

1 can tomato paste

Mix well and simmer for about 15 minutes.

And of course, the toppings.  Create an assortment of toppings and let children experiment with their own favorite combinations.  At our house, we need cheese (I mix Mozzarella with Colby Jack), ham, pineapple, and olives.  That gets pretty much everybody in one way or another.  Find what components meet the needs of your group, and arrange them salad bar style.  When everything’s ready, bake it at about 425 degrees for about 10 minutes (give or take depending upon the size).

I’m sure this kind of pizza would have cheered Pete up as well!

Pizza photo by Moi Cody.

You might also enjoy Welcome to the Pizza Shop!  Prop Ideas for Preschool Dramatic Play.
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Filed under book activity, Building Readers, language activity, Learning through Play and Experience, Recipes - Edible, Snack Time

Dear Sweet Puddin’head

I’ve been working on some pretty comprehensive posts lately, so I decided it was time for some fluff.  LITERALLY. 

I give to you, one of the simplest and most versatile recipes in my repertoire, Puddin’head.  This tasty stuff results from the combination of pudding and whipped topping.  We’ve used it for quite some time in our house, as a frosting spread on cakes and piped onto cupcakes, a substitute for plain Cool Whip in desserts like this chocolate trifle, a hot chocolate topping, or a tasty filling in crepes or on waffles along with some fruit.  After referring to it for too long as “that yummy pudding-Cool Whip stuff”, my husband finally gave it its Twain-esque moniker, and it has stuck. 

This recipe is so simple, your little ones will love to help you out with it, and will likely volunteer to lick the spoon as well.  The directions are simple and completely open to tweaking.  All you do is mix one vanilla pudding packet with half of the milk called for on the package.  Whisk until it begins to thicken.  Then fold in one container of Cool Whip.  That’s it!  Use it in one of the many ways I described above, or eat it straight from the bowl.  (I won’t judge you!) 

After sharing this recipe with people they usually ask what sizes to use.  The answer – it doesn’t really matter.  I’ve used one large package of pudding and one large Cool Whip,  two small puddings and one small Cool Whip, one small pudding and one small Cool Whip, and virtually ever other combination you can imagine!  It’s always good.  More pudding in your proportion means more flavor and more density.  But it’s always good. 

As I said, tweaking is not only allowed, it’s encouraged.  I’ve used vanilla pudding, French vanilla, and even chocolate.  All delicious!  I’ve also blended cream cheese in with the pudding portion of the recipe.  Also tasty!  You can add coloring if you need to and it still works- and tastes – fantastic.

One puddin’head use I really love this time of year is as a filling for ice cream sandwiches.  Dollop or spread between two graham crackers, place them on a sheet and set them in the freezer.  Once they’ve firmed up, you can transfer them to an airtight container, separating layers with wax paper.  It’s a cool and tasty summertime treat!  Get fancy and press sprinkles into the sides or dip half of the sandwich in melted chocolate.  Whatever makes you happy! 

So kick back, relax, and add some fluff to your day!

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Spider Cookies To Tickle Your Child’s Tastebuds!

“There was an old lady who swallowed a spider, that wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her…”

 Here’s a snack that will build fine motor skills, counting ability, and an understanding of the characteristics of arachnids – oh, and of course, it’s tasty too!

Create a two-part body from your favorite sugar cookie recipe (or store-bought dough), by using two cookie cutters or by rolling one larger and one smaller ball, then flattening them into each other.  Baked, it looks like this:

Then supply those little ones with frosting or Nutella, licorice string, and mini M&Ms, and talk about all the parts of a spider as they spread, count, and decorate their way to a tasty, educational treat!

You could also create other bugs, including some of the characteristics from this bug activity!

For more bug-themed ideas, check out this brainstorm! 
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Filed under fine motor skills, Learning through Play and Experience, Recipes - Edible, science activity, Snack Time