Homemade Popcorn, a Healthy Snack for Your Kids


Kids, some of which are mine, some of which aren’t. Photo: Jeff O’Heir

I don’t like most kids. They’re clingy, loud, rude and insensitive. Many of them smell bad. But my attitude quickly changes when they like my food.

Most kids are picky eaters and naturally suspicious of anything they don’t regularly eat at home. But when they take the leap, hallelujah! It shows spirit, daring, open-mindedness. Gobble my guacamole, savor my swordfish, chow down on my chili, and you’re in.  Come over anytime. Ask for seconds and you can move in.

Of course, it’s also a great ego boost for the home cook. We struggle each week to make a variety of healthy dishes and snacks that our kids will eat without complaint as we try to introduce them to new flavors, cultures and adventures.

Out of necessity, we train them to like what we like. When they do, it makes the life of a busy dad that much easier. And when a kid other than your own compliments your cooking, you know you’ve won the game. Your toils in the kitchen have now served the betterment of mankind.

Unfortunately, half of mankind’s children gather on my front yard every day to catch the school bus. Some even think it’s okay to walk through the front door uninvited, no matter how grumpy I am or how much I yell. They even ask for things.

“Jeff, make me some popcorn,” our 10-year-old neighbor Harrison asked the other day. “And why should I do that?” I grumbled. “Because yours is the best, and it’s really good.” “Okay, give me five minutes.” I didn’t even need a “please.” Hell, the kid can move in any time he’s ready.

He happened to be shoving a box of Milk Duds down his gob when he asked me. Give me the Duds and I’ll give you the corn. He did. Huge win. Any success substituting a wholesome snack—especially when it’s as fun to eat, easy to make, and healthy as stovetop popcorn—for one that’s processed, packaged, and packed with who-knows-what makes for a glorious day. This popcorn always keeps the kids busy and quiet for a few precious minutes … until they start demanding more.


Photo: StockFood / Carlson, Tate

TIME: 7-8 minutes

FEEDS: Four hungry kids, with a little left in the pot for the chef

BACKGROUND: Air-popped popcorn is the healthiest (no oil), while the kind in microwavable bags is considered the worst. But cooking organic popcorn on the stove, using relatively healthy oil, is the tastiest. It also shows your kids it’s possible to create delicious, healthy alternatives to processed snacks right in their own kitchen. Include them in the process in whatever ways you safely can. In general, kids are more likely to eat what they help make.

PREPARATION: Put a heavy-bottomed large (at least 6-qt.) pot on a burner and turn it up to medium high. Coat the bottom with oil, about 1/8th of an inch, roughly 3 Tbsp.  The trick is to make sure all of the kernels have a good coating to ensure consistent popping.

The best type of oil is always up for debate, especially since the health benefits of each is constantly questioned. Don’t sweat it. I use what I have in the cabinet, usually olive and grape seed. Canola, peanut, and coconut oils also work.

Heat the oil for about 2 minutes. You want it to start shimmering, not smoking (400 to 425 degrees). While the oil is heating, melt about 2 Tbsp. of butter, which should be more than enough, in a small pot.

Pour enough kernels into your big pot to cover the bottom. You want a single layer, no more.  Swirl the kernels around to make sure they’re well coated. Cover the pot, leaving a slight gap to allow the moisture to escape. This guarantees crisp kernels.

When the kernels start popping, lower the heat a bit to prevent burning. Give the pot a good shaking every now and then to ensure even cooking. Knock the heat down a bit when the pot is about 3/4 full of popped corn. You know the popcorn is done when you can count about 3 seconds between each pop. Have your kids lead the countdown. Put the pot on a cool burner and remove the lid.

SERVING: Skim the foam off the melted butter with a tablespoon. Get a large, shallow serving bowl (the kind you’d use for salad or pasta) and drizzle some of the butter down its sides. This provides a more even coat than pouring the butter directly on the popcorn, and you end up using less of it. (Use the same method for dressing a salad). Dump about 1/3 of the popcorn in. Add a several pinches of kosher or sea salt. Stir everything around. Add some more butter to the side of the bowl and repeat the process until the bowl is about 3/4 full.

More articles from Jeff O’Heir:

When the kids love it, don’t change the recipe

How to smoke a turkey