Each day, after school, my kids come home and ask for a snack.  Monday through Friday, like clockwork, they hit the door and run for the goodies.  Being mindful of what they put in their bodies and watching the junk food, I’m learning a few new recipes for healthier options while trying to stick to our grocery budget.

“Variety is the spice of life,” they say, and no kid wants to come home and eat an apple or banana or celery every day.  Bor-ing!  Here are a few recent discoveries that help keep my trio of snackers quell their appetites until dinner is ready.

One of my newer favorites is baked apple chips.  (Mom loves snacks, too!)  They’re delicious, fresh, and take little effort.  Literally three ingredients is all you need for this one:  2 teaspoons granulated sugar, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, and 2 apples.  I like to use Honeycrisp apples and less sugar, but a less sweet variety of apple is fine.  I doubled this recipe after the first time I made it because they were gone before I knew it, but I’m feeding three (and myself.)

Slice your fruit to about ⅛-inch rounds.  A mandolin slicer makes this part super-easy, but a sharp knife works just as well.  You can core the slices if you choose.  In a bowl, mix your cinnamon and sugar, and toss the apples to coat both sides.

Lay the apples evenly on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (I used non-stick aluminum foil the last time because I was out) and place in a 200-degree oven for one hour.  Turn over to the other side, and bake for another hour.  Turn off the oven after the hour, and allow the apples to cool in the oven – this helps them crisp up.  Enjoy when cool, or store in an airtight container for the next time.

Comparing costs, a bag of name-brand dried apple slices is about $0.69 per ounce.  Honeycrisp apples are currently $2.19 per pound, or $0.14 per ounce.  Hello, savings!

Another favorite is fried cinnamon bananas.  These take more time and effort (staying with the stove), but are still easy.  I can’t prep these ahead, so they’re usually reserved for my days off.  Again, only three ingredients, and super simple prep!  You’ll need 2 slightly over-ripe bananas, 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon.  I tried nutmeg with them, too, but we weren’t fans.

Mix the cinnamon and sugar together in a bowl, and slice your bananas between ¼ and ½ inch thick.  Use non-stick spray or a light coating of oil in your pan and turn on to medium heat.  Add the bananas and sprinkle with half of the cinnamon-sugar mixture.  Cook for 2-3 minutes, turn over, and add the other half of the flavoring mix.  Cook 2-3 more minutes, or until they are soft and warm through.  (I tried brown sugar with this recipe, and it made more of a mess in the pan than change the flavor of the bananas.)

You’ve got significant savings again, when you break down the math because a 12-ounce bag of dried bananas is $0.21 per ounce, and bananas are currently $0.47 per pound, or $0.03 per ounce!

Other go-to morsels include classics like celery and peanut butter, cucumber slices and dip, “caterpillars” made of grapes on a wooden skewer, clementines, and baby carrots and peanut butter (it’s really good, trust me).

We do enjoy the savory treats, too, but my dad gets credit for our love of homemade bacon popcorn.  I know, it sounds strange, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!  He reserves the drippings from cooking bacon and uses it as the base for popping the treat in a hand-crank stovetop popper.  Simply use 1-2 tablespoons of drippings and about ¼ cup unpopped kernels, and crank until the popping stops.  Pour into a bowl, and season to taste.  I’m sure some of you are thinking, “how can this be healthy?!”  I assure you, the amount of grease used per batch is almost nothing compared to the sodium and preservatives in a single bag of microwave popcorn.  Also, using the reserved drippings guarantees using every bit of the bacon you’ve paid for.

If that doesn’t appeal to you, try oven-baked potato chips.  I like these better than my kids do, and they’re a healthier alternative, and much more cost effective, than a bag of half chips/half air.  Very thinly slice one russet potato (⅛-inch or less), and dry the pieces with a paper towel.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and coat with olive oil or non-stick spray.  Lay the potato slices evenly, and lightly spray or coat the potato surface.  Bake at 425 degrees for 11 minutes, turn, and bake 7-9 minutes more.  Pay attention around the 6 minute mark because they’ll brown and crisp up quickly, so you’ll want to pull those slices earlier to avoid burning.  Sprinkle with salt or seasoning of your choice and enjoy, or store in an airtight container.