Gummy, sweet and fun to eat, fruit snacks are an all-time kids’ favorite that parents feel good about doling out at snack time or tucking into lunchboxes. Because, after all, they’re good for you—right? Not so fast. Packaged varieties, molded into clever cartoon character shapes in a rainbow of vibrant colors, may contain “real fruit” as the box boasts, but take a closer look at the ingredients list.
You’re likely to find added artificial colors, flavors and preservatives, not to mention animal-derived gelatin. Not exactly the wholesome serving of fruit “in disguise” you were happy for the kids to gobble up.
I’m all for fun foods, but I knew there had to be a better way to enjoy these chewy, sweet treats. My recipes eliminate the junk, using fresh fruit purees, honey or maple syrup as natural sweeteners and agar agar (a plant-derived ingredient) to replace gelatin for a gummy texture.
Use an ordinary baking pan to make square-shaped snacks, or try a candy mold (available at craft supply stores or online) for stars, hearts, flowers or other kid-friendly shapes!
“Any Fruit” Snacks
(Use unsweetened juice or fruit purées of your choice in this recipe. I like to use whichever fruits I’m into juicing at the moment—watermelon is great for summer!)
1. Heat juice on low until hot; add agar agar and stir until dissolved.
2. Remove juice from heat and immediately add honey, agave or maple syrup; stir until mixed.
3. Pour into lightly-oiled pan or molds. Refrigerate for 2-1/2 to 3 hours before serving.
“Any Fruit” Snacks
(Fresh chopped fruit can be added to this recipe—just chop small, by hand, or use your food processor.)
1 cup fruit juice (see options below)
1/2 to 3/4 tsp. agar agar powder (increase up to 1 tsp. if needed)
1. Bring juice and agar agar to a boil; simmer for 5 minutes. Add chopped fruit, if including, while mixture simmers.
2. Pour in lightly-oiled molds or pan and refrigerate until firm.
Fruit Juice Options
(Make your own or use 100% natural/organic juice)
- Watermelon/lime (2-3/4 cups watermelon juice + 1/4 cup lime juice)
- Mixed citrus
- Carrot/ginger (use agave as the sweetener with this combination)
- Strawberry and mixed berries
- Peach or mixed stone fruit (good with maple syrup as the sweetener)
Blueberry & Applesauce Fruit Snacks
(If your kids are sensitive to texture, start with one of the recipes above. While these are yummy, they have a texture more like “fruit leather” than mainstream fruit snacks.)
1. In a pan over medium heat, place blueberries and water; let simmer until blueberries start to pop, then smash with a potato masher.
2. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil while stirring; reduce heat to a simmer and cook until mixture is reduced by about half.
3. Pour into lightly-oiled pan or molds and chill until firm.
Tips for cooking with agar agar:
- If using flakes in place of powder, use 1 tablespoon of flakes for every teaspoon of powder.
- Agar is firmer than gelatin. It needs to be heated longer to dissolve, with flakes taking longer than powder.
- When replacing gelatin with agar agar, you’ll need less agar agar than called for in a recipe. For every teaspoon of gelatin, I substitute 3/4 teaspoon agar agar powder.
Storing homemade fruit snacks:
Keep your homemade fruit snacks in a sealed container in the refrigerator. If you’ll be packing them as an away-from-home snack, tuck them into a reusable container, wax bag or parchment paper.
Dana Zucker is a home cook that likes to do it her way! She gets creative with nutritious ingredients to keep her active family—teenage twins and a vegan, triathlete husband—healthy and happy. Cooking with organic, local and whole food ingredients is key, whether she’s whipping up an early-morning breakfast, prepping afterschool snacks or getting dinner on the table at 10 p.m. Dana says, “We do eat out sometimes, and even cheat with some pre-made foods. But I try to balance making delicious foods with the reality of a busy schedule.” Dana’s recipes are a great starting point to find a style of cooking that works for your family. Her advice? Keep it real—and keep it easy!