Our Top Tips for Turning Snacks Into a Meal

Let snacks save dinnertime. 

Caramelized Five Onion Dip with Bread, Chips, Potatoes, and Vegetables
Photo: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Rishon Hanners / Prop Styling by Claire Spollen

We're big snack people here at Food & Wine — we're a group of people who love to crunch, dip, and graze throughout the day. I mean, if you looked at just our Slack threads and desks (especially the snack sampling station), you'd think the magazine was called Snacks & Wine. We've done taste tests to find the best gourmet popcorn, celebrated some of our favorite snacks from around the world, and even created a menu for "The Throwback Holiday Snack Party of Your Dreams" (hello, cheese ball!) And while snacks are obviously perfect for enjoying in between meals, we strongly believe that they're also worthy of being the whole dang meal. Because who has the time or energy to turn out a full-on main course and side dish every single night?

Obviously, a platter of pigs in a blanket can be dinner. But we believe potato chips smeared with crème fraîche and topped with hefty dollops of caviar can also be dinner. Or herby dips with plenty of crudités and crackers. You can load up a plate with a single snack, or mix and match three or four snacks into your own personal tasting menu. After all, one of the greatest things about snack dinners is that they can be whatever you need them to be to suit your mood and appetite.

Join us this week as we ditch the rules of what dinner "should" be and embrace our snacks. Here are our top 10 tips for turning snacks into an epic meal, from a collection of dinner-worthy dips to pointers on how you can transform leftover snacks into a meal. Read on, and snack away.

1. Be Fancy, or Don't

Grocery Store Cheese Board
Sarah Crowder

Maybe your dream snack dinner is a platter that includes a tin of caviar and some pâté; maybe it's a plate of wings with creamy blue cheese dressing on the side; maybe it's a charcuterie board with honey and preserves. Whatever you love to snack on, lean into that and build the snack spread of your dreams. If you're looking for a best-of-both-worlds situation, this guide to making a fancy cheese board with grocery store items (one word: Doritos) is a great starting point.

2. No Cooking Required

Green Peppercorn Marinated Feta
Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Rishon Hanners / Prop Styling by Claire Spollen

One of the many beautiful things about snack meals is that there are plenty of options that don't require turning on your stove (or oven, or microwave). Take a cue from our Culinary Director at Large, Justin Chapple, and marinate cubes of feta in a combination of extra-virgin olive oil, white wine vinegar, drained green peppercorns in brine, kosher salt, crushed red pepper, and thyme. After the cheese marinates in the fridge, all that's left to do is grab crackers and/or crostini and dig in.

Tartare can absolutely be a snack or appetizer (or snacketizer?) too, and this Herbed Salmon Tartare with Chips is a great option if you are feeling fancy. It features a combination of fresh and hot-smoked salmon (store-bought, no cooking here!), and gets its herby flavor from dill and chives.

3. Leftover Snacks Can Easily Become Your Next Meal

Tomatillo Toasts with Prosciutto and Manchego
Inspired by classic pan con tomate, a Spanish dish of bread rubbed with fresh tomato, Justin Chapple tops crunchy toasted bread with tangy grated tomatillos. To round the toast out, he also adds thin slices of prosciutto and shaved Manchego cheese. Christopher Testani

Say you have a dinner party with a decked-out cheese board, and at the end of the night, a few hunks of cheese remain. You can certainly eat them the next day as-is with some crackers and leave it at that. But why not turn your leftover snacks into a totally new, ridiculously tasty snack? In this recipe for Fromage Fort, chef Jacques Pépin takes half a pound of leftover cheese pieces and blitzes them all together in a food processor with dry white wine, a clove of garlic, and black pepper. The result is a smooth, savory, flavor-packed cheese spread that you can enjoy cold, or spread on bread and toss under the broiler so it gets nice and browned. Pépin's father used to make his with Camembert, Brie, Swiss, blue cheese, and goat cheese (plus leek broth, garlic, and white wine). But what makes this recipe a winner is that you can use whatever cheese you have on hand. And if you have leftover Fromage Fort? Don't worry, it freezes well.

You can also go the toast route and use cheese board leftovers to make these Tomatillo Toasts with Prosciutto and Manchego, inspired by the Spanish classic pan con tomate. Shave the Manchego, tear the prosciutto into strips, and boom, they're ready to use as toppings.

4. Upgrade Your Popcorn…

Everything-Bagel Popcorn
You’re going to need an afternoon snack. This popcorn is seasoned like an everything bagel, with caraway, sesame, onion, garlic and flaky salt. It’s irresistible. © Eva Kolenko

If popcorn is part of your snack routine, try dressing it up. Jen Pelka gives popcorn the everything-bagel-treatment, while Martha Wiggins combines popcorn with sesame-glazed pistachios for salty-sweet results. Love truffles? Then this truffled popcorn is for you. It gets a double-dose of truffle flavor thanks to white truffle oil and minced black truffle. The latter is optional; either way, the end results will be awesome.

5. …and Your Chips, Too

Herbed Potato Chips
© John Kernick

Give your chips and dip a boost by adding extra flavor to the chips. Try toasting nori sheets, grinding them into a powder, and mixing the powder with salt as an umami-packed seasoning for homemade chips. Or, follow chef Tory Miller's cue, and glaze freshly fried chips in a mixture of unsalted butter and honey — gochugaru and fine sea salt finish them off. And just like herbed fries, you can make your potato chips herby, too. Tyler Florence sprinkles homemade chips with fried fresh herbs and salt for an extra-special touch.

6. Snack Dinners Are the Move for Entertaining

Chile Crisp Glazed Bacon Bites
Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Rishon Hanners / Prop Styling by Claire Spollen

When you have guests, a snack spread is the way to go. Not only can you easily tailor your menu to accommodate their (and your) needs — like having a vegetarian option, something meaty without dairy, or gluten-free treat — but you can also pull off something impressive without breaking the bank, swapping out pricier roasts or fish centerpieces for dishes like cocktail meatballs or tartines.

It also goes without saying that making a snack or two is a lot easier than pulling together a multi-course menu for a dinner party. There's certainly nothing wrong with going all-out, but if you want to save yourself some time and energy, pull together a few dips and a cheese board instead.

7. Speaking of Dips…

Nacho Snack Dinner with Sweet Potato Queso
Antonis Achilleos

Dips make an ideal dinner because they're both filling and low-key, allowing you to graze as you please without having to throw together anything formal. We have some next-level dip-for-dinner options in our arsenal, including cookbook author Leah Koenig's Dinner Hummus with Spiced Chicken and Cauliflower, in which spiced chicken and cauliflower sautéed with currants and onions sit atop swoops of creamy homemade hummus. Add some za'atar, parsley, toasted pine nuts, and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil for garnish and you're all set to grab pita chips (or just a spoon) and start dipping. In the mood for something cheesy? Whip up Paula Disbrowe's Queso Flameado, which is splashed with tequila at the end and briefly set on fire for dramatic flair. Consider also making Muhammara, Fancy Clam Dip, Spinach-Artichoke Dip, Caramelized Five-Onion Dip, or whatever dip strikes your fancy.

8. Don't Be Afraid to Open a Nice Bottle with Your Snacks

Sausage-Stuffed Fried Olives Recipe
Victor Protasio

Snacks deserve wine pairings, too! Our executive wine editor, Ray Isle, created a roadmap for pairing wine with different chip flavors — classic potato chips and Champagne are a dream team, and if you're into barbecue, he thinks Napa Zinfandels or Spanish Priorats are the way to go. If you have these Sausage-Stuffed Fried Olives on the menu, we recommend serving them with a bright, juicy Barbera d'Asti, or a crisp martini if you're so inclined.

9. Take Advantage of Tinned and Canned Seafood

Anchovy Toast with Fresh Tomato Vinaigrette
Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Lydia Pursell

Canned and tinned seafood like anchovies are your friends here — all you have to do is crack open a tin and you're ready to add salty, briny flavor to any snack dinner situation. Use olive oil–packed salted anchovy fillets to make these Anchovy Toasts with Fresh Tomato Vinaigrette, a "made-to-share snack board" from The Anchovy Bar in San Francisco, or grab a tin of sardines in extra-virgin olive oil to make chef Sheldon Simeon's Sardine Pupu, which he calls "a primo snack." If you happen to have caviar on hand, consider this Four-Layer Caviar Dip (!) which is essentially a caviar platter in dip form, or dollop it on top of deviled eggs to take the classic appetizer to the next level. Trust us, you'll never go back.

10. Whatever Snacks You Choose for Your Dinner, Make It Special

Zeytinyagil Yaprak Sarmasi
Photo by Eva Kolenko / Food Styling by Carrie Purcell / Prop Styling by Jillian Knox

Snack dinner is an occasion, and whether you've gone the fancy route or the most low-key-route possible with your food, you can still present it in a way that feels celebratory. Grab a decorative platter or a wooden cheese board, spoon your dip into an elegant bowl, and arrange everything nicely. If you're enjoying wine with your meal, break out nice glasses, too. Snacks can give us so much joy and delight — it's high time we showed them a little love back.

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