How to Make a Meal Out of a Whole Bunch of Snacks

Everyone will be full (and happy!) if you keep these things in mind.

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April 16, 2021
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STETTYN CELLAR, WORCESTER, WESTERN CAPE, SOUTH AFRICA - 2018/10/19: A antipasto platter at Stettyn cellar, a winery in Western Cape, South Africa. (Photo by Leisa Tyler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Photo by: Leisa Tyler

Leisa Tyler

In my house we call it snack-spiration. It’s that glorious night once or twice a month when we fling open the doors to all the kitchen cabinets and start pulling out every half-eaten package we can find — all in the name of a no-cook or low-cook dinner. And, while this might sound like the beginnings of just another cheese or charcuterie board, trust me when I say, “it’s not”.

Snack-spiration is our really low-effort way to explore new flavors and culinary ideas together. Rather than order another run-of-the-mill pizza or picking up fast-food burgers when we need a low-key night, we spend a few minutes curating a creative meal together. What we end up with is something just as easy as takeout — but that everyone is way more excited about.

We’ve made these dinners a lot now and have the balance of creating something fun and spontaneous that will keep everyone full down to a science. If this sounds like your kind of meal but you’re not sure how to get started, these tips will help.

Choose a Theme If Possible

The first step in any true snack-spiration is to take stock of what you have on hand. If you’re a visual person (like me) this means rummaging through your pantry, refrigerator and freezer and spreading out whatever is available on the kitchen island. I like to approach it this way because, once I see all the odds and ends that I have hanging around, ideas start to emerge. If I have the right mix of things, I like to choose a theme — it makes the spread feel more like a cohesive meal. When I have store-bought tzatziki, pita chips, olives and lots of veggies, I’ll probably end up making a Greek-inspired snack board. If I’ve got frozen mini quiche, a nice wedge of cheese, bagel chips and an orchard’s worth of fresh fruit, the theme will likely become “brunch”, instead.

Always Include Protein

It’s no secret that protein keeps you full so including some in your snack-based meal is a no-brainer. The point of snack-spiration is to minimize or eliminate cooking so don’t be afraid to use whatever plant-based or pantry-friendly proteins you’ve got. Nuts, crunchy dried chickpeas, hummus, beef jerky, frozen egg bites and Greek yogurt (which can easily be turned into dip) are all great choices, depending on your theme.

Remember the Fruits and Veggies

Don’t forget about all those fresh fruits and veggies in your refrigerator when you’re taking stock of available snacks — this is the perfect opportunity to use up the odds and ends in your crisper drawer! Plus, fruits and veggies are loaded with good-for-you fiber which can help keep everyone full. To make them feel snack-worthy, aim for a colorful, eye-catching spread (like grape tomatoes, cucumber rounds, cut-up bell peppers and jicama sticks) and serve with hummus, yogurt dip or guacamole.

Buy Something Special When You See It

Sometimes a grocery store item will spark an idea. And, while the point of snack-spiration is to effortlessly use up what you have at home, it never hurts to have a few inspiring snacks ready and waiting in your kitchen. So, when I see frozen spinach-artichoke phyllo cups, a fun flavor of cracker crisps or a bag of rosemary marcona almonds, I buy them. They’re things that can sit in my pantry or freezer until I’m ready to use them and they’ve already got me halfway to a good idea.

Make It Eye-Catching

Sometimes my family and I arrange everything on two giant wooden cheese boards, other times our kitchen island is covered with a myriad of pretty, mismatched bowls. The presentation is always different but our snack-spirations all share one thing in common: they draw you to the table and make you want to stay. As cliche as it probably sounds, we’ve found the saying “you eat with your eyes first” to be true. There’s a certain satisfaction in sitting down to a meal that looks good (and bountiful) so we make an effort to set our snacks out in a really fun way. We take a no-bad-ideas approach to how the meal is presented and challenge ourselves to think creatively. And, do you know what? I’ve never heard a single complaint about any meal we’ve set out together.

At the end of the day, the most important thing to keep in mind is that snack-spiration is meant to be both fun and practical. Don’t overthink it. Use what you have strategically and do what you can to make it look nice — but don’t forget to give yourself a break. You’ll be amazed at how, with just a little bit of thought and effort, everyone’s favorite snacks can feel like something brand-new. Just don’t be surprised if your family starts answering “snack-spiration” whenever you ask what everyone wants for dinner!

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