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TV Snacks: Guilty Pleasures Made a Little Less Guilty

We all have our guilty pleasures: junk food, an occasional peek at a gossip magazine, or a night in front of the television watching American Idol.

Sometimes guilty pleasures are best enjoyed together. So you read a trashy book at the beach, sing along with a sappy song or eat junk food while watching bad TV. My friend Marybeth gathers her family around the television once a week for Survivor and a pan of brownies.

Growing up in the 1970s, after-school television and snacking went together. Cheese-flavored chips were perfect with cheesy programs like The Brady Bunch and Gilligan's Island. Sour Smarties were a good match for the bittersweet poignancy of an After School Special.

My whole family got together to watch the yearly airing of The Wizard of Oz and ate homemade popcorn, my personal favorite in-front-of-the-TV snack.

Making the popcorn was an elaborate ritual, from the first sound of the corn hitting the pan to the last sprinkle of salt on top.

My mouth would water as my mother ran the metal pan over the burner, making a lovely riot of noise. When the noise stopped, my sisters and I would sit in a row, youngest to oldest, in front of the television, and wait for my mother to bring in the silver-colored bowl full of popcorn. We'd vie for the perfect handful as Dorothy walked down the yellow brick road to the Land of Oz.

Woe to the sister who knocked over the bowl during any scene featuring the Wicked Witch of the West. By the time the movie was over, all that was left was a small handful of unpopped kernels.

Snacking hasn't changed that much. You can still find versions of old favorites such as cheese-flavored crackers in the grocery aisles to share with your kids, though they might come in wild colors or in the shape of goldfish. There are even gummy Lifesavers on grocery-store shelves.

Heavily processed foods are not first choice in the era of organics and whole foods. But let's face it, there are times when carrot sticks and raisins just won't fly. To keep everyone happy and quiet, you have to offer something that tastes good. If these snacks harbor something of nutritional value, all the better.

Popcorn prepared with the right kind of oil and lightly topped with salt or spices is a tasty alternative to packaged candy and chips. Even brownies pass the test, if you believe recent reports on the antioxidant powers of chocolate. I like to pair these treats with a healthy alternative to straight sodas: pomegranate spritzers.

As with everything, moderation is key. Just hope that the networks don't offer a Survivor marathon, or you may have to lug the treadmill in front of the television and let the family take turns at their own endurance test.

Read last week's Kitchen Window.

Get more recipe ideas from the Kitchen Window archive.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ellen Birkett Morris