Given teenage metabolisms and the ridiculously early time that schools serve lunch (my high school started lining us up before 11am), it's no wonder that kids come home from school ready for a snack. I wasn't much of a cook in those days, so that snack was generally either pre-made or required minimal preparation.
I don't snack as much as I used to and I cook a whole lot more, so these days if I am going to snack I'm going to make it count. I still love old standbys like grilled cheese, bagel bites, and cookies, but I've realized that they can be far more delicious than the ones I ate as a kid. One thing hasn't changed—I don't want to put a ton of time into making a snack. Fortunately, tricks like popping popcorn in a bag in the microwave and faking butterscotch with a few simple ingredients make snacking a breeze. Keep reading to find 18 of our favorite after-school snacks for grown-up palates.
Grilled Cheese With Kimchi
After school snacks don't get much more classic than a grilled cheese, but this one features an ingredient that I didn't even know existed when I was a kid: kimchi. The combination isn't as weird as it sounds—it's not uncommon to see a slice of gooey American cheese on a bowl of funky kimchi jjigae.
Bagna Cauda (Anchovy-Garlic) Popcorn
A batch of our brown-bag popcorn with salt and butter is totally kid-friendly—for something a little more sophisticated you're going to have to experiment with other flavors. Inspired by the Italian dip bagna cauda, here we toss popcorn with an intense mixture of butter, olive oil, garlic, and anchovies.
Chipotle Honey-Butter Potato Chips
A far cry from your classic barbecue or sour cream and onion, these homemade potato chips are flavored with the popular Korean combination of honey, butter, and chili powder (we use chipotle powder for a little smokiness). Feel free to use store-bought chips here to keep things quick, but if you happen to have some homemade chips around, that's even better.
What sets this recipe apart from most Cheez-It clones is that we use cream instead of butter, which helps the crackers brown more deeply and take on a nutty flavor. To get the texture right it's important to grate the cheese with a microplane, which gives it enough surface area to act almost like a dry ingredient and also minimizes the amount of flour you have to use, resulting in a cracker that tastes as cheesy as possible.
Homemade Wheat Thins
Sometimes copying a store-bought snack is as simple as reading the ingredient list—our Wheat Thins taste spot on because we make them with the whole grains, oil, sugar, malt syrup, and turmeric that Nabisco uses. It might be tempting to try to omit the more specialized ingredients like malt syrup, but you'll end up with a cracker without the same nostalgic appeal.
Homemade Bagel Bites
Making homemade mini bagels is a bit of a project, but unlike most bagels, ours stay good for a couple days. If you come home Monday to bagels you made over the weekend then you're only a couple minutes from the best bagel bites you've ever had. We like to keep them simple, topping with red sauce, cheese, and diced pepperoni.
Extra-Crispy Bar-Style Tortilla Pizza
I didn't discover this recipe until long after grade school, but if it had been around when I was a kid I'm sure it would have been a staple of my diet. Tortillas yield a remarkably good bar-style pizza with none of the effort of making dough. The picture shows a basic margherita-style pie, but you can top it however you'd like.
The Best French Bread Pizza
It was more of a school lunch than an after-school snack for me, but either way, French bread pizza will always have a place in my heart. Be sure to get the right bread—we're looking for a supermarket-style "French" loaf rather than an actual baguette—and melt on a little cheese before adding the other toppings so that the crust doesn't get soggy.
The Best English Muffin Pepperoni Pizza
English muffins can also suffer from sogginess when pizza-fied, so we toast them before building the pizzas. The toppings are all pretty simple—the only secret is in the pepperoni. English muffin pizza cooks far too quickly for the pepperoni to crisp up, so we cook it in a pan before adding it to the pie.
Brie and Nutella Grilled Cheese
This grilled cheese walks the line between sweet and savory by pairing buttery Brie with rich Nutella. While we normally make grilled cheese sandwiches on white sandwich bread, we go with a crusty French loaf here because the nooks and crannies catch all of the melted cheese and chocolate.
Strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups
Making strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups like the ones you had as a kid involves a surprising trick: using hardly any strawberries. To stay true to the original we turn to lots of dried pears and apple juice and just over an ounce of freeze-dried strawberries. Cutting out shapes isn't strictly necessary, but what's the fun of a Fruit Roll-Up that you can't pull apart?
Stovetop Butterscotch Pudding
Growing up, chocolate Jell-O pudding was one of my absolute favorite treats. As I've gotten older, though, my tastes have shifted toward butterscotch. Making traditional butterscotch from scratch is too much work for a quick snack, so we use quick-toasted sugar and malted milk powder instead—it's not like Jell-O tastes like real butterscotch, anyways.
Real Donettes are cute but lacking in flavor, so when it came to recreating them at home we knew we had to do better. We make the simple batter with egg yolks and Greek yogurt, which fries up into something like a sour cream doughnut crossed with yellow cake. Frying in refined coconut oil gives the doughnuts a creamy texture and keeps your house from smelling like a grease trap.
E.L. Fudge-Style Chocolate and Vanilla Sandwich Cookies
Don't let the shape fool you—these taste like classic E.L. Fudge cookies. The cookies themselves are made with less butter than we'd normally use to make them crunchier, then filled with an easy dark-chocolate frosting (we prefer the earthy depth of ultra-dark Dutch-processed cocoa to natural cocoa).
Back in the 19th century, snickerdoodles were made with what today seems like a comical amount of cinnamon—as much as one part for every three parts sugar. We don't go that far, but we do manage to get more cinnamon into our snickerdoodles than a lot of other recipes do replacing some of the ground variety with freshly grated cinnamon, which is less astringent.
Quick and Easy Chocolate Chip Cookies
The dough for our ultimate chocolate chip cookies has to be refrigerated at least overnight—if you want cookies today, then this recipe is your best bet. It's as simple as creaming butter and sugar, then mixing in eggs, flour, and chocolate. As soon as the dough is soft you're ready to form and bake the cookies.
No-Bake Cookies With Chocolate, Peanut Butter, and Chewy Oats
If our easy chocolate chip cookies still sound too involved, how about a recipe that doesn't even involve turning on the oven? These no-bake cookies are essentially a peanut butter fudge thickened with oats. As with any other fudge, temperature is important, so try your best to cook the chocolate to 230°F.
PB&J Sandwich Cookies
This recipe takes the classic PB&J and reimagines it in cookie form. For the "bread" we use butter cookies flavored with a few ounces of peanut butter; for the filling is—you guessed it—peanut butter and jelly. The cookies are pretty crunchy, so we'd recommend going with creamy peanut butter.