Kid-friendly boredom busters: Make your own MunchPak snack boxes

It’s good for kids to be bored during the summer, but parents know that *too* much zone-out time — on or off the phone — is no good.

I’ve been trying to come up with a bunch of fun activities for us to do this summer to keep the boys creatively stimulated and having fun. Some of those, of course, are food projects, so once a week, I’ll be sharing those kid-friendly boredom busters here.

The first is DIY MunchPaks.

My sons, ages 10 and 6, loved getting boxes from MunchPak, the snack subscription service that specializes in international candies, chips and other treats. We went shopping at MT Supermarket last week and bought enough snacks to make our own boxes to try to keep summer boredom at bay. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

What the heck is a MunchPak? It’s a subscription service that delivers a box of international snacks and candies to your house. I gave it to the boys as a Christmas present last year, and it was the gift that kept on giving, once a month, until summer.

But at $10-$15 per box, those boxes aren’t cheap, so this summer, I decided to take a DIY approach.

I took the kids to MT Supermarket, the Asian mega-market in North Austin, one day last week. That grocery shopping trip was an adventure in itself, but this time, I took it one step further and let them pick out about $25 worth of snacks, gummies, candies, ramen and other treats. (My oldest would pick a crazy new pack of ramen over cookies any day of the week.)

When we got back to the house, they helped me unpack our treasures — potstickers and buns for me, shrimp chips and seaweed strips for them. I pulled out half a dozen small cardboard boxes and let them divide up the snacks into each box. They had so much fun deciding which snacks to put in which boxes and trying their best not to break into the ones they were most excited about. We then taped up the boxes, wrote a “to open” date on the outside and put them away.

Each week, we’ll break out a box and the kids will get to enjoy a new kind of unboxing experience. To get an even greater variety of snacks, the next time, we’ll stop by a Middle Eastern or Indian store on the way home to grab salty and sweet treats from another part of the globe.

How are you staying busy with your kids this summer? Share your favorite activities, experiences or projects in the comments below.

Next week, I’ll tell you how the Jell-O cookies turn out.

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Two-ingredient chocolate butter will keep your kids busy, learning about science

We’ve been trying to stay busy on these winter weekends when the weather has been hit or miss.

You can read all about the Blazer Tag/iFly/trampoline park fun we have in this recent Austin360 cover story, but we’ve had a few fun cooking projects over the past few weekends I thought I’d share.

MORE: Indoor activities to keep your nature-loving kids busy this winter

You can shake heavy cream with chocolate syrup to make chocolate butter, a treat (and DIY project) that will delight kids. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman
You can shake heavy cream with chocolate syrup to make chocolate butter, a treat (and DIY project) that will delight kids. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

A few weeks ago, the kids saw a YouTube video about making chocolate butter and asked if we could try it at home. I remember making butter a bunch of times when I was in elementary school, either for science projects or in homage to my beloved Laura Ingalls Wilder.

And what do I remember about it? Shaking the jar of cream until my arms felt like they were going to fall off.

So, we picked up some heavy whipping cream at the store. (Already had the chocolate syrup at home.) I found a wide mouth Mason jar and filled it halfway with cream and then a big squeeze of Hershey’s chocolate syrup. After screwing on the lid, I put the jar inside an oven mitt to help avoid accidental breakage, and we got to shaking.

Of course, within 5 minutes, the kids were tired of shaking the cream, so we found out that we could clumsily roll it back and forth on the floor to accomplish the same task.

Thirty minutes later, we started to having something that looked like butter (above). I squeezed out the chocolate whey that was left over, which we used in pancakes instead of milk or water. (We also had some chocolate whipped cream from about 10 minutes into the shaking after I realized that the jar was going to be too full to continue shaking the butter and poured some out.)

Chocolate whipped cream, chocolate butter and chocolate whey, from a recent butter-making experiment with my kids. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman
Chocolate whipped cream, chocolate butter and chocolate whey, from a recent butter-making experiment with my kids. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

The butter itself (center) was just chocolate-y enough to enjoy on toast, but that chocolate whipped cream was probably their favorite part of the experiment.

What’s the science here behind the fat separating from the liquid? According to Serious Eats:

Shaking cream in a jar until it turns into butter can be exhausting (it’s kind of like a culinary Shake Weight) but whether you are whipping, shaking, or thrashing the cream around in the food processor, what you’re ultimately doing is smashing those little globules of fat into each other, damaging their walls and causing the hydrophobic (water-fearing) regions to clump together. The cream will become thicker and thicker as more and more fatty triglycerides gather into one mass. Eventually, enough fat is exposed and there’s room for everyone to get together, eliminating the need for triglycerides to partner up with air. In other words, fat was just stringing air along until other fat became available.

Once air leaves (feeling humiliated and used) the network collapses, and the water that was being held in suddenly and dramatically separates from the solid mass of butterfat.

To be honest, my kids weren’t as interested in the science part of butter-making as the eating of the chocolate butter, but it was a fun project nonetheless.

For kicks, let’s look at the price of butter over the past 30+ years:

Even though butter costs are down, it’s still in the $3-plus-per-pound, but to make that quantity of butter with cream would cost you just as much money and a heck of a lot more time.

That doesn’t mean making butter isn’t a fun project, though. Have you ever made butter? As a kid or an adult? Have you ever made homemade flavored butter? What did you use to season it? Let us know in the comments below!