May 16, 2017
A Mom's Guide to: Snacking in Japan
Japan is a huge snacking country. Amazingly even though the general population is stick thin, they snack a great deal.
Personally I love to snack and try the different varieties of snacks available in this market but I do have issues with my kids snacking. I strongly believe in the destructive sugar highs and the nasty temper tantrums that follow when the euphoria is gone. I face problems when my kids snack so much between meals they refuse proper food during meal times. I resent the trips to the doctors and dentists for problems such as tummy aches and cavities. Enough said, I end up having to educate my very little kids on the ill effects of sugar and deny them the sugary snacks that all their friends get and share.
The Snack War in Japan
Contrary to what I have been used to at home, I realized that the Japanese were quite liberal with kids snacking. Gummies are the preferred snack, with a strong belief that the chewing motions help brain development. Juices are seen as alternatives to eating fruits and hence considered healthy. Of course ice-cream is the calcium supplement to develop stronger bones. Character chocolates and sugar-laced cookies and doughnuts are cute treats for the adorable kids and hence pardoned. Snacks are available everywhere, mums from school were always equipped with a bag full of snacks to pass along. Grandmas on buses and department stores were always ready to stuff candies into kids pockets. It is almost impossible to fight the sugary temptations my kids get, as long as they are out of the house.
So now there is this snack war, mom vs kids and the whole world. Of course I am at the losing end and there is no way I can ever prevent my kids from snacking. So I decided to turn the bull by the horns and offer a list of snacks that are not only healthy but allow my kids to be indulgent and snack to their hearts content!
I also strongly believe in building a healthy palate for natural tasting foods. I try to use less flavorings so my family can taste the real goodness of the raw ingredients. We know that Japanese farmers actually pour their heart and soul into providing us with the best fruits and vegetables, plus the seafood and meat here is divine. In that sense, Japan is actually really good for cultivating an appreciation of natural tasting food.
My Snack Offerings
I have divided these healthy snacks into a few categories, the ones you can commonly find in stores, the ones you would have to make yourself and those seasonal items you must try.
Buying it Outside
Supermarkets and convenience stores all over Japan offer an abundant option of snacks. Of course there are those snacks I oppose, but look away from the snack aisles, you will find plenty of other snackable foods.
Some examples are:
- Dried or cured beans (mame)
- Fruit and vegetable chips with no additives or artificial sweeteners
- Plain dried fruits
- Bread in small portions from bakeries, convenience stores and supermarket bread aisles
- Doraiyaki, Taiyaki
- Cheese (single serve, wrapped like a candy)
- Dried fish
- Dried seaweed (Nori)
- Small fruits like blueberries or cherry tomatoes
Of course some of the above options may include variants that are laced with sugar. Use your discretion and pick the option that you deem most healthy for your kids.
I have also discovered some places that sell a good variety of these healthier snacks, e.g. Muji, Tomizawa, natural food markets as well as the farmer markets that pops up occasionally in the neighborhood.
Making It Yourself
It's economical and there are fantastic ingredients everywhere as Japan is a great place to get the best fruits and vegetables. You can also be creative and add fruits of your choices to have variety in the recommendations below.
It is true that you cannot avoid sugar when it comes to baking. So I have learnt that there is a kind of sugar substitute here in Japan, made from Hokkaido sweet daikon. Tried and tested, this daikon sugar is not overwhelmingly sweet and does not result in the ill effects of ingesting too much cane sugar.
Some examples of home made snacks:
- Fruit konjaku (Sample recipe here)
- Pancakes (Sample recipe here)
- Cupcakes (Sample recipe here)
- Muffins (Sample recipe here)
- Cornbread (Sample recipe here)
- Milk pudding (Sample recipe here)
- Cookies (Sample recipes here)
- Fruit salad
- Dried fruits and vegetables, easy peasy if you happen to own a dehydrator
The other benefit of making it yourself is you can also engage your kids, have them make their own snack with their preferred flavors and designs. This way they will be so proud of themselves that they want to eat more and also show off to their friends.
Special Seasonal Snacks in Japan
Japan has the best seasonal food selection. Make good use of what the climate and soil has to offer and at the same time educate your kids on the goodness they can expect with the different seasons.
- Steamed sweet corn
- Steamed or baked sweet potato
- Roasted chestnuts
- Seasonal fruits such as blueberries, strawberries, oranges, peaches, persimmons just to name a few
The alternatives to sugary unhealthy snacks are actually abundant. The list could go on and on and is only limited by your creativity. I hope this opened up your option of healthy snacks in Japan for you and your family. Any other suggestions, please let us know!
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