A wellness chef's guide to attacking the snack
One of the most common questions I get asked is "what are some healthy snack options?" While I do believe that it's best to eat sit-down meals without snacking in between, I also know from personal experience that it's not always possible, especially with a long, modern work day. Traditional packaged snack foods (think: the readily available items sold in most vending machines and check-out counters) are low quality, and loaded with sugar, refined carbs, and additives. They can leave you feeling blegh while also feeling blegh about yourself.
So today I wanted to share the snack items (both store-bought and homemade) that I keep on hand in my pantry and in my tote bag. Even the store-bought items are less processed that you'd typically expect and are lower in sugar, additives, and refined carbs. And because I'm a chef? They are also delicious. I just can't do the "healthy" products that taste like cardboard, cat food, or packing peanuts. These snacks are what I look to when I need an energetic pick-me-up or what I like to set out and share with friends when we meet up which is the most fun way to snack. Especially if Aperol Spritzes are involved.
A healthy chef's go-to snacks:
Garlic and Herb Cashews
I get these pre-made garlic and herb cashews from the bulk bins at Whole Foods. Tragically, they got rid of my all-time favorite bulk snack (anyone else remember the Thai Curry Cashews?), but these zippy, salty, snackable nuts totally hit the spot when you don't have time to spice up your own. Many of the seasoned items from the bulk section are coated in sugar or maple, so I like I having a less sugary but still flavorful option. Cashews provide monunsaturated fatty acids to help you feel full and keep your blood sugar from spiking.
Simple Mills Crackers
I have no problem turning down most junk food. No thank you, popcorn, chips, Cheetos, and pretty much any boxed cookie! It's not because I'm a saint. It's actually because I'd rather be stuffing as many crackers into my face as I can. I've always loved salty, crunchy crackers whether they be Wheat Thins, Clubhouse, or even plain ol' Saltines. Simple Mills is a Chicago-based company who makes their crackers with nut and seed flour instead of grain flour. They are absolutely delicious and a good pair for dips and cheese. While they are definitely a healthier option, it's still not a wise idea to go full-on chipmunk with these guys (see actual footage below of me eating crackers for an example). Find them at Whole Foods and other big retailers.
Actual footage of me eating crackers.
|Here| Bright Beet Dip
Hummus is a go-to healthy snack staple because it's affordable, easy to keep on hand, and goes well with everything from bread to carrots. But after decades of eating hummus, well, it can get a little boring. And sometimes the new flavors I optimistically try at the store can be gag-inducing. To mix it up, I've been excited to add Midwest-based |Here| Vegetable and Bean Dips to my routine because I know I'll love their produce-driven flavors from Curry Lentil to Black Bean Tomato to Bright Beet.
Why do I know I'll love them? Well....I helped create them! This new company reached out to have me create and perfect the flavors for this line of dips that's made with Midwest-grown beans like white beans, lentils, and black beans. Then instead of industrial flavor powders, we use real fresh produce, herbs, and spices to create clean, interesting flavors. While I can clearly whip up a dip recipe at home, it's nice to have a go-to brand in the store to buy in a pinch. (And it's been wildly fun to see my recipes in Whole Foods, Marianos and Local Foods--look for them in the hummus section!) While the best seller is the White Bean Basil Dip, my personal favorite is the brilliantly colored (and totally natural!) Bright Beet Dip.
Niloofar Persian Trail Mix
Trail Mix is another classic snack staple that can often get pretty boring. Or it's packed with filler ingredients and you get so little of the good stuff. A few months ago, I had the privilege to meet Chicagoland native Niloo Mirani and try her Niloofar Persian Trail Mix. Being Pakistani-American, I've grown up loving lots of Middle Eastern foods, but Niloo introduced me to this recipe for ajil or Persian Trail Mix. Using more unique ingredients like sweet figs and mulberries and combining them with salty cashews, almonds and walnuts, she's created a totally modern take on trail mix that I try to keep in my pantry. (I loved it so much I invited to her share it with you all at the last Healthy Happy Hour.) It's great to set out for guests too. You can find it online or at smaller retailers in the Chicago area like Dill Pickle Food Co-op or Local Foods.
Dang Coconut Chips
Another store-bought favorite, Dang Coconut Chips are rich, sweet, and just slightly salty. I like having a fatty option since most snacks tend to be high in carbs. These coconut chips are great on their own or mix well with nuts to make a DIY and low-sugar snack mix. My recommendation is to stick with the original variety that's lightly sweetened with cane sugar. While added sugar isn't typically the best option health-wise, I think the original tastes far superior to the unsweetened variety so I like to spring for it. It's not much added sugar, just enough to create balance and let you taste all that coconuty goodness.
It takes almost an hour to make roasted chickpeas, but only about 30 seconds of that is work (draining chickpeas from the can and sprinkling them with salt and oil). After that the oven does all the work of taking this protein- and fiber-rich legume and turning it into a crunchy solo snack or topping for salads, bowl meals, and more. Check out my recipe for the full details. Roasted chickpeas can be stored at room temperature for a week or so.
Smoothies are more frequently a portable snack for me than they are a breakfast. Whether I'm teaching a class or cooking at a client's, it's nice to have a whole-food mini meal on hand that I don't need to stop working to eat. (That made me feel depressed to type out, but that's the life of a chef and entrepreneur!). It's always ideal for me to eat an actual meal as opposed to a sippable one, but green smoothies allow me to make a compromise and get leafy greens mid-day. Check out my Green Smoothie Jars recipe and how-to video to see how I prep these for the week ahead. Just blend before you leave the house and you can take your produce-packed snack with you.
Umm, herbal teas are NOT a snack, I know. But they are often my go-to tasty habit in the late afternoon or evening when I'm not actually hungry but feel like having "a little something." My favorite herbal tea flavors are turmeric, ginger, mint, rooibos, and hibiscus and I usually have at least a box or two at home at all times. I've even been known to keep a few tea bags in my purse to take to friend's houses since I don't like soda and often don't want to drink wine. Herbal teas (featured strongly in my Global Healing Kitchens cooking class series) are a great way to introduce healing and anti-inflammatory herbs into your day, especially if you are struggling to get those anti-inflammatory ingredients like colorful veggies and herbs into each meal.