Reaching for a snack is a constant for my kids, especially after school and after dinner. Since cutting most sugar-filled and processed foods out of our family’s diet, we have had to adjust the types of snacks we stock. Today’s kids are snacking more and getting much less exercise than kids five, ten, even twenty or more years ago.
Traditionally, families ate during mealtimes only, and they were more physically active in their overall lives. In today’s America, however, far too many sugar-filled and salt-laden processed foods line our grocery aisles, and then find their way into our pantries at home – and we’re not spending the added “food energy” in our bodies as fast as we’re adding it.
Here are my top 8 healthy options waiting in the pantry when my kids reach for that power snack:
1. Peanut or almond butter – Great source of protein and fiber and easy to use in high-fiber sandwiches, smoothies, sauces, and as a veggie spread. This natural nutty goodness is nicely filling, and is a great grab snack anyway you serve it!
2. Pocorn – A classic favorite, popcorn is light, fiber-filled, and easy. Popcorn provides a fun crunch and texture for the snacker, and is a great source of bulk. This is the cream of the crop for my kids, as they turn to this snack when they are craving less healthy alternatives, like chips. HOWEVER, we make it "homemade" now - in a pot, like my mom used to.
HOW TO MAKE HOMEMADE POPCORN:
Just use a large pot with a lid over high heat, put 2 Tbsp canola oil, 1/3 cup popcorn kernels and a Tbsp butter in the pot - shake as it pops, then remove and pour the popcorn out right when it "stops popping so fast."
3. Greek Yogurt with Chia Seeds stirred in - Low-sugar flavored Greek Yogurt with a Tbsp or two of chia seeds stirred in and left to set for about 5 minutes (to soften and expand) is a HIGH-energy-giving and easy to make snack! You could always add fresh fruit or berries, Tbsp or two of mini chocolate chips, or even nuts to the "parfait."
4. Nuts – Almonds, walnuts and pecans are best, and in that order. These three have the most benefits, carrying loads of fiber (3 grams for one ounce) and vitamin E, folic acid, copper, magnesium and the amino acid arginine. Each of these benefits present evidence of playing a role in preventing heart disease, so it’s not just a healthier snack option, it’s one of the healthiest! Some information out there is warning of the high levels of fat in nuts, but be assured, they contain healthy fat – they are very low in saturated fat.
5. Crackers with Protein Topping or Dips – Most brands are naturally sugar-free, low in fat (no trans fat!) and available in whole wheat. Serving sizes are realistic, and actually fill the snack need – great alone or with spreads, cheese, or even veggies! Try a fresh pico salsa with them, or mix some salmon with whipped cream cheese and spices for a quick and easy protein boost.
6. Prunes, craisins & other dried fruit – Add them to your nut mix, or just pop them in your mouth for a quick sweet tooth fixer. Either way, the high fiber count (almost 4 grams per serving) and loads of vitamins and minerals contained in this dried fruit packs a punch in your body for health!
Craisins (dried cranberries) also provide many benefits as you enjoy their naturally sweet-tanginess. They were found to have the highest level of natural antioxidants per gram than any other fruit! That’s a good reason to munch on them – you’re boosting your immune system and protecting your heart at the same time!
BONUS tip: FRESH fruit is actually even better for a quick snack - it's full of the right kind of fibrous sugars for energy! Just slicing up an apple or banana or popping a handful of berries in your mouth can be the BEST snack choice!
7. Salmon – leftover fresh grilled or canned – Filling, full of protein, so quick and easy, we whip leftover grilled salmon flakes into a quick dip as a snack often. The benefits to this fish are numerous – of course, the omega-3 fats, but salmon also contains high levels of vitamin D, vitamin B3, B6, and B12, and many other vitamins and minerals. It is an energy booster, and a generally good choice for a midday snack.
8. Sun Tea or other sugar-free drink mixes – It is so easy to whip up some iced tea or a cold pitcher of sugar-free fruit punch! This has made the transition from sugar-laden juices, sodas and other harmful drinks to much healthier options easier on my kids. Of course the ideal is to end up sugar-free without sweeteners, but I have learned to choose my battles, and I am choosing the lesser evil on this one!
One really great option I have found for chocolate milk – 1 tbsp of Nesquik’s 25% less sugar chocolate powder mixed with 6 oz unsweetened almond milk – equals one happy kid, and that is achieved in under 7 grams sugar! Win-win!
It IS possible to make healthier choices in snacking at home, it just takes a conscious decision to make the transition. Decide to do it, commit to a plan, and watch your family grow healthier today!