My efforts to raise healthy children is often thwarted by their vastly different individual tastes. It's nearly impossible to find foods that satisfy all of them. My favorite solution is to create meals that are easy to customize and get the kids involved in meal prep (e.g. tacos, muffin tin meals, and individual casseroles). After watching my son eat everything but raisins out of the trail mix I'd given him as an after school snack, I realized I could customize their snacks too. That's how I came up with the trail mix buffet.
Trail Mix Buffet Occasions
I don't normally lay out a dozen bowls for snack time so the trail mix buffet isn't a daily occurrence in our home. About once a month we'll have a trail mix making family party. We each make a big batch of our own trail mix blend. The kids love having a snack in the pantry that is solely their own.
I'll sometimes go to the effort of setting up a trail mix buffet if we're about to go on a family camping trip or have a full day of outdoor activities planned.
The buffet is also good for when my kids have a bunch of friends over. The other kids enjoy picking their snacks, there's built-in portion control so I don't get eaten out of house and home, and the activity is one way to keep the kids occupied.
What to Include
The reason trail mix makes a great snack is that it packs a ton of variety into a single serving. With that in mind, I like to provide a wide variety of ingredient choices.
- Nuts – peanuts, almonds, cashews, walnuts, and shelled pistachios are popular choices
- Seeds – sunflower and pumpkin seeds work well in trail mix, as does dried edamame
- Grains – whole grain cereal, pretzels, crackers, and popcorn add great variety and flavor
- Dried Fruit – raisins, apricots, mango, and pineapple add natural sweetness
- Sweets – a small sprinkling of chocolate chips, marshmallows or yogurt-covered raisins can help win over kids who are reluctant to eat trail mix
- Seasonings – for added flavor you can add cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, or garlic powder
If your goal is to provide a healthy snack for your child(ren), it helps to establish some “rules” or guidelines before setting them loose on the buffet.
I limit my kids to one scoop maximum of each ingredient. I provide smaller scoops for the ingredients I don't want them to consume in bulk (e.g. chocolate chips and marshmallows).
Also, because I want to encourage my kids to try a variety of foods, I require that they have at least four different ingredients in their trail mix.
If you have a child with a sweet tooth, you might limit them to one sweet item and encourage them to incorporate more fruit to add sweetness to their mix.
It's your buffet, so you make the rules. Just communicate your expectations BEFORE the kids dig in and try to arrange the items in a way that makes it easy to follow your guidelines.
If I'm setting up for an after school snack session, I just have the kids use small bowls to collect their trail mix items. We use these bowls we bought at Ikea.
If we're making them in bulk for the kids to use throughout the week in their lunches and snacks, they make larger portions and store them in BPA free plastic storage containers like these:
Of course, you can also repurpose used jars and attach a personalized label too. Head over to Organized 31 for instructions on how to make your own trail mix label.
The kids can transfer a smaller amount to a plastic zip-close bag to bring to school. I'm ashamed to admit that I still buy disposable bags because they are so darn convenient, but I do have my eye on some of these attractive reusable snack bags.
The whole point of the trail mix buffet is to let the kids be creative with their combinations. However, if you have a child who likes structure, he or she might want some direction in the form of a “recipe.”
To help my structured child, I made up to sample recipes from our ingredients to get her creative juices flowing. I made a savory mix (Cheerios, pretzels, edamame, and almonds) and a sweet mix (Chex mix, peanuts, dried apricots, raisins, and marshmallows).
If your child has a nut allergy, he or she might like to follow this recipe for a Nut Free Trail Mix (courtesy of Homemade for Elle).
And active kids who need long-lasting energy from protein will love this High Protein Trail Mix (recipe courtesy of Feeding Big).
Beyond the Buffet
Don't worry about having leftover ingredients. The best part of trail mix ingredients is that most of them are great all by themselves. So, if the kids eat through all of the pretzels but you still have half a box of Cheerios, you can serve the rest for breakfast this week.