For most kids, the best part about school was likely recess. Red Rover, tag, crush-based gossip and the snacks, one cannot forget the snacks. But let's be real, if you were a child of immigrant parents, there's a chance you may have drooled over peers' snacks (read: white-kid-snacks — Fruit Roll-Ups and Joe Louis trades, anyone?), while you might have shamefully shimmied around the back of the school to eat your dhokla or polvorón.
Well, we're bringing those days back, minus the shame. Our true and trusted dietitians reveal their fave childhood snacks with a healthy twist.
Dietitian: Michelle Jaelin, president of NutritionArtist.com, a creative food brand
Snack: Dried fish snacks
Origin: Popular snack in Asian countries such as China, Japan and Korea, but also in Nordic countries such as Iceland.
What are they?: Chewy, wrinkled straw-shaped strips that taste like sweetly smoked sole. They're not simply dehydrated fish; the meat is typically blended with spices and taro root, baked into thin sheets, and then shredded and packaged.
Ingredients: Fish meat, tapioca flour, wheat flour, salt, soy sauce, chilli and flavour enhancer.
Health benefits: They have some omega-3 fats in addition to being a good source of protein.
Notes: Dried fish snacks are similar to beef jerky, the latter of which is healthier than most of the packaged snacks you find at the gas station. Huzzah!
Childhood memory: The first time I came across these I was a kid hanging out with my grandma in the TV room. Like many immigrant families, my grandma lives with one of my aunts, who was eating these snacks while watching her Chinese soap operas. I remember thinking they looked like the guppies I saw at my Canadian friend's house, swimming in their large fish tank. It was like she was eating my friend's little pet fishies!
Where they can be purchased: Most Asian or ethnic grocery stores will stock dried fish snacks, just look in the snack aisle.
Snack: Haw Flakes Candy
What are they?: Haw flakes are a traditional Chinese candy (sahn sah ban, shānzhābǐng) made from the mashed fruit of the Chinese Hawthorn, called "haws." Haws are a red fruit with a tangy sweet taste.
Ingredients: Haw, sugar, water and colour.
Heath benefits: Hawthorn fruit is known to have many health benefits, including antioxidants, heart and digestive health benefits. However, once they are prepared into the candy, the health benefits decrease significantly.
Childhood memory: When I was a kid, we would go to the Asian supermarket on weekends to stock up on groceries. I would grab the Haw Flakes Candy first in the sweets aisle. Like most kids, I loved candy. After we would head over to the savoury snacks aisle where my mom (who grew up in Hong Kong) would pick up a salty snack for herself. As someone who didn't grow up in Canada, she has different taste and snack preferences.
Where they can be purchased: Most Asian or ethnic grocery stores. And on Amazon.
Dietitian: Nazima Qureshi RD, nutrition expert
Snack: Dry-roasted whole chickpeas
Origin: India, Africa, and Central and South America
What are they?: Pretty much, just what they sound like they'd be! Chickpeas that have been roasted using olive or an alternative oil and often seasoned with chilli pepper.
Ingredients: Whole chickpeas, olive or coconut oil, salt.
Heath benefits: Roasted chickpeas provide protein and fibre, making it the perfect balanced snack to provide a boost of energy.
Childhood memory: I loved eating dry-roasted whole chickpeas as a child. They had a black crispy coating and the chickpea crunch was very satisfying. Growing up, I didn't realize they were a "healthy" snack. Now, you see roasted chickpeas as a common healthy snack.
Where they can be purchased: In South Asian grocery stores, often found in a big bag for cheap!
Note: Be sure to read the labels for sodium content and look for a brand that has the least amount of sodium.
Sujala Balaji: Food scientist and founder of Kosha Foods, a gluten-free foods startup
Snack: Kadalai Mittai/Peanut Chikki
Ingredients: Peanuts, jaggery, water
What are they?: Little round balls (sometimes cut into small square/rectangular bars as well) of roasted peanuts mixed with jaggery. If you like peanuts, this is the snack for you!
Heath benefits: Peanuts are a great and cheap source of protein. Jaggery is a natural sweetener and a much healthier alternative to refined white sugar. The ancient Indian way of living, known as Ayurveda, believes there are many health benefits to consuming jaggery that is prepared traditionally.
Childhood memory: It was a very common and affordable snack that was sold everywhere in India, especially on the buses and trains by street vendors. My fondest memory is remembering that this snack was my dad's most favourite and mom's least favourite.
Where they can be purchased: Most Indian/Sri Lankan ethnic grocery stores.
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Origin: South India
Ingredients: Rice flour, lentils, sesame seeds, spices (cumin, chillies, etc..), salt and oil.
What are they?: Savoury, crunchy deep-fried snacks that are shaped in different types of spirals using different moulds.
Heath benefits: Although deep fried, this snack is protein-rich since lentils are high in protein. And the spices such as cumin help with digestion. Sesame seeds are rich in many vitamins and minerals including zinc, selenium, copper, iron, vitamin B6, and vitamin E.
Childhood memory: This is a snack that is made at home from scratch for all important Hindu festivals, especially Diwali. There is great pride and pleasure in making these snacks in large quantities and sharing it with the entire family, neighbours and relatives. I have fond memories as a university student when my mom and aunts used to send lots of Murukku with me to take back to school after visiting home for holiday celebrations. Even to this day, they still make Murukku to send some with me when I go visit family in India.
Where they can be purchased: Most Indian/SriLankan ethnic grocery stores and some ethnic sections of a grocery store such as No Frills will also often carry it.
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