When I was a kid we had a children’s cookbook filled with recipes designed for grade schoolers. I can picture the book exactly: yellow cover, line drawings and a red plastic spiral binding. As vivid as that image is, I can remember only one recipe we made from that book. I can’t actually be certain that it wasn’t the only one we tried, but I recall the taste perfectly. Essentially they were no-bake peanut butter balls, in which peanut butter and honey held O-shaped oat cereal together (okay, fine, I’ll say it: Cheerios). We used a health food brand called Oatios (which I just confirmed still exists and is sold through Amazon, what a trip!), so my sister and I dubbed these Oatio balls. The recipe also called for powdered milk, which I assume was mainly for the nutritional boost.
I had several reasons for recalling these recently and attempting to make them with my son (who is nearly 3).
1. I recently hauled all of the food out of our cabinets to get a sense of what’s there and what needs to be eaten soon. Cheerios and powdered milk were among them. (Reading this now I realize that I could have simply added water and called it breakfast, but that would be too easy for my brain to dream up. If it can make a sticky, complicated mess out of something simple, it will. Alas, such is my plight.) In addition to the ingredients-that-could-have-been-a-breakfast, I also had freshly ground peanut butter which I refuse to refrigerate, and therefore must eat up quickly. (This is my attempt at a compromise with my husband who prefers Skippy to natural peanut butter because it’s rendered unspreadable by refrigeration.)
2. My son’s preschool requires we send a snack for him to eat after naptime. I sort of resent this because I believe snacking is a leading contributor to the poor diets of American children (and adults, for that matter). And yet still, I too reach for processed convenience snacks at times. Organic, sure. But still, how long has it been since the fruit in that bar was kissed by the sun each morning? Was my son even born yet? So, I try to make a fresh snack for each school day, but it would be nice to have my own stash of homemade convenience noshes, too. I’ve bookmarked a bunch of granola bar recipes and other similar things, but a snack-cum-project with the snacker himself seemed more fun.
3. While I involve our boy in cooking regularly, I’m afraid merely facilitating his participation in my meal preparations compromises both the outcome and his enjoyment (not to mention my sanity: oh the mess!). Not a winning combination. Additionally, my normal, impatient toddler doesn’t always enjoy having to W.A.I.T. for the dish to bake in order to eat it, after having just done the work to measure and mix the ingredients. A no-bake healthy treat solves that issue (although I won’t claim this recipe doesn’t have the potential to result in a disastrous, sticky mess).
4. Finally, it just seemed like fun. For me, it’s a nostalgic and totally new experience all at the same time. And we both enjoyed sampling the results straight out of the bowl. In fact, when I asked my little darling to ease up on eating the mixture, he retorted, “I’m not eating, just tasting.” I gotta remember that argument.
Halfway into making this recipe, I had a lovely thought: we would bring the whole batch to preschool the next day and share Big O’s snack with the other kiddos. Our first classroom treat! Another parenting milestone! My heart swelled.
And then I looked over at my dear one licking his hands and diving back into the bowl for more. (Does it count as double dipping if it’s your fingers and not food that gets re-dipped??) It was immediately apparent that sharing outside of the nuclear family would be in poor taste, however charming the idea.
My boy did some scooping, measuring and mixing. Some rolling and a lot of tasting. We had fun. (I didn’t even get uptight about the honey on the counter, floor, child and step stool. No really, I didn’t.) And now we have a small stash of peanut butter balls for snack time. It’s a lovely start to what I hope will become his own fond memories of childhood cooking.
**Update: I picked the little one up from preschool early the next day, that is, before nap (and snack time). As he rushed to greet me with a smile and a big hug, the first words out of his mouth were, “I didn’t have my snack.” I *knew* he’d worry about losing his snack privileges when I came to spring him out early. This kid is nothing if not in love with food. (I wonder where he gets that?!) I assured him that as a “special treat” he could have his school snack at home after his nap. That settled the matter until we got home, whereupon he had a second round of meltdowns complete with tears, coughing, and protests. No amount of reassurances of a snack later would console him. What did? A spoonful of honey for his cough. Typical.
1/2 c natural peanut butter (I used crunchy, smooth would be fine, too)
1/3 c honey
1/2 c powdered milk
1/4 c wheat germ (optional)
1 1/2 c O-shaped oat cereal (Oatios, Cheerios, or similar)
1. Measure peanut butter and honey into a large, microwave-proof bowl.
2. Microwave for 30 seconds, or until soft. (Or you could use a double-boiler method.)
3. Add in powdered milk and wheat germ. Stir well to combine. Taste, and adjust honey as needed.
4. Add in cereal and stir to distribute evenly.
5. Grease hands lightly with butter or coconut oil (optional, but helpful). Grab small chunks of the mixture (about a Tbsp) and roll into balls (or snakes or patties, as the case might be).
6. Enjoy at snack time. *wink* Share with friends.
Store for a few days at room temperature, or refrigerate or freeze for longer storage.