Erin O’Neill is the people and culture manager at The Penny Hoarder. It’s a full-time gig that means she takes care of the employees here as our HR go-to woman. First and foremost though, she’s a wife and a mother, which means this lady is busy.
Since she and her husband both work full time, there’s not much time to prepare dinner during the day. So once her family walks through the door, she and her husband are faced with the challenges of juggling dinner prep and concocting a snack for their two daughters, 6-year-old Emerson and 10-year-old Lily.
And according to O’Neill, there’s nothing worse than hungry children –– except ones who are hungry and picky. And like any kids, hers can be both!
Thankfully, though, O’Neill has her go-to before-dinner snacks that are low maintenance, delicious and come from one of her favorite cost-effective grocery stores: Trader Joe’s.
Check out five of her favorite ways to tame her kids’ appetites without breaking a sweat –– or her budget.
Keep in mind: Prices may vary by store!
1. Apples With Caramel Sauce
O’Neill says the organic apples at Trader Joe’s are the perfect size, and a 2-pound bag costs $2.99 — much less than the ones at her regional grocer, Publix.
She loves to pair slices of apples with a scoop of a little something extra: “I don’t know if you’ve ever had [Trader Joe’s’] caramel sauce,” she says. “But it’s amazing.”
The caramel sauce runs about $3. I’m not a parent, but I’m pretty sure from a kid’s perspective, this is more of a treat than a snack. But hey, when it comes to taming pre-dinner hunger, who says it can’t be fun?
2. Pretzel Dip
You’ve likely heard of Trader Joe’s Everything but the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend. If you haven’t, you’re about to –– and for less than $2, it’ll change your life.
Need a quick alternative to chips and dip? O’Neill dumps this killer seasoning into a bowl of sour cream and serves it with pumpernickel pretzel sticks, which are only $1.69.
O’Neill calls this one the “perfect insta-dip,” and her kids love it.
Does the idea of feeding your kids pumpernickel pretzels sound like an impossible feat? Try serving it with sliced veggies, like cucumbers or baby carrots.
Delicious and (somewhat) healthy!
3. Veggie Birds Nests
For whatever reason, O’Neill’s daughters will turn their noses up at a homemade recipe, but they will wolf down the same exact one if it comes out of box.
What exactly is a bird nest, you ask? Shredded veggies piled together to form a crispy, perfectly seasoned bundle of joy.
She loves grabbing Trader Joe’s version from the frozen section. After you pop them in the oven, they come out perfectly crispy and delicious, she says.
“If I tried to make that, everyone would laugh at me,” says O’Neill. “They would literally hold their noses and not eat it.”
The best part? Her daughters scarf them down. Oh, and a box of these only costs $3.
O’Neill loves using Trader Joe’s cereal as a quick snack that even her girls can put together. It has a long shelf life, and you get more than just a few servings out of it, making this arguably the easiest snack on our list.
She also says that TJ’s is the only place she and her husband will buy cereal for their family since it’s free of genetically modified organisms. One of their favorites? Gorilla Munch –– and it costs $2.99.
Is there anything easier to make in the kitchen than a bowl of cereal? Seriously, even I can make that –– and I’m the person who still burns toast at twentysomething years old.
Cereal: It’s quick, easy and it won’t kill your children while they’re making or eating it.
5. Wildcard! Hit Up the Sample Section
One of the best tricks O’Neill keeps up her sleeve is letting her daughters try items in the sample section.
This not only gives them a quick bite of food while they pick out that night’s ingredients for dinner, but if the girls like what they try, she purchases the full-size version for tomorrow’s snack.
During one trip to the Joe, her daughter Lily tried a Gorgonzola flatbread and fell in love. O’Neill did, too –– it cost less than $4 for her to buy it for the next night and was as effortless as preheating the oven and throwing it in.
OK, maybe I lied when I said cereal was the easiest snack on this list.
Kelly Anne Smith is a junior writer and engagement specialist at The Penny Hoarder. Catch her on Twitter at @keywordkelly.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.
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