Whether it's after school or sport, the holidays or weekends, snacks provide important extra energy and warmth during the cooler months.
Foods that taste great and nourish are all the better if they're simple enough for the family to prepare themselves.
Children may need "mini meals" to help absorb enough calories to get them through the day, so choose healthy foods that add nutrients - without excessive calories - to their diets. Keep portions small to prevent weight gain.
Soup is one of my favourite standbys. Vegetables can be chopped quickly in the food processor, then sauteed in a little olive oil, stock and herbs added, then simmered for 15 minutes or until tender. For extra protein add a can of beans. Served with toast, soup is well-balanced and moreish.
Popcorn is a popular snack but be sure to choose the plain variety for cooking either in a pot or the microwave. Researchers say popcorn contains more of the antioxidant polyphenol than fruit and vegetables. Add flavour by sprinkling the popped corn with a mixture of chilli powder, ground cumin, paprika and a little salt.
Muesli bars are generally thought of as healthy but they are very sugary.
Try persuading the kids to make their own banana smoothies or chutney-flavoured cottage cheese with corn chips; or Cafe Cheese Rolls.
Use a wok to fry these spicy, battered, vegetable snacks. Heat the oil until a faint haze rises.
1 cup chickpea or plain flour
1 tsp each: ground cumin, turmeric, coriander
1/2 tsp each: ground all spice, cinnamon, chilli powder, salt
3/4 tsp baking powder
1 small onion, finely diced
About 3/4 cup water
400g prepared mixed vegetables: cauliflower and broccoli florets, finely sliced cabbage and spinach, grated carrot
Oil for deep frying
Sift flour into a bowl with spices and baking powder. Add onion and enough water to make to make a moderately thick batter. Add veges just before frying.
Heat about 3cm oil in a wok. Take dessert spoons of the vege mixture and deep-fry quickly to prevent the pakoras absorbing too much oil. Drain on paper and keep warm while preparing the remaining pakoras.
Yoghurt combined with finely chopped mint makes a great dip to accompany to these snacks. Serves 6-8.
CAFE CHEESE ROLLS
This recipe is a version of the cheese rolls served in coffee bars during the 70s.
8 slices brown or white sandwich bread, crusts removed
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 cup grated tasty cheese
1 spring onion, finely chopped
A little melted butter or oil
Spread each bread slice with mayonnaise. Sprinkle with the cheese and spring onion. Roll up as for a sponge roll. Secure with a toothpick. Lightly brush with butter or oil.
Grill until lightly toasted, turning once during cooking. Makes 8.
PUMPKIN SEED SLICE
A muesli-type of slice. Great for an after-sport snack.
50g butter, chopped
1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
200g pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup cornflakes, lightly crushed
1/2 cup each: self-raising flour, rolled oats, sultanas
Preheat the oven to 170C. Line a 20cm square cake tin or similar with baking paper. Place butter, brown sugar and honey in a microwave-proof bowl. Cook for one minute or until the butter is melted. Mix well, until sugar has dissolved.
Combine pumpkin seeds, cornflakes, flour, rolled oats and sultanas in a bowl. Stir in the butter mixture and mix well. Lightly press into pan.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden. Cool completely. Cut into bars or squares. Makes 20 pieces.
SAUCY SKEWERED FRANKS
1/2 cup plum sauce or
1/4 cup tomato sauce and
1/4 cup smooth mustard
Spear the end of the frankfurters with wooden skewers, pushing the skewers through to the other end.
Place on a long, microwave-proof plate. Cover loosely with waxed paper. Microwave on high for one minute. Remove the skins. Turn the franks.
Spoon the sauce over franks. Cover loosely with waxed paper again and continue cooking for 1-2 minutes. Serves 4.
1 onion, diced
1 tbsp canola oil
400g premium minced beef
420g can Mexican tomatoes
1/2 cup water
200g corn chips
2 cups grated tasty cheese
225g can crushed pineapple, well drained
125g light sour cream
Saute onion in oil in a large frying pan until softened. Add mince, mixing with a fork to break up any lumps. Add tomatoes and water. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until cooked.
Pile corn chips and mince in layers on a large platter or several serving plates. Sprinkle with cheese and pineapple. Grill or microwave briefly until cheese melts. Serve topped with the sour cream. Serves 6-8 as a snack.