Snacks are a great way to keep yourself, and your family, nourished between meals. They can provide a mid-day energy boost or allow you to head into a workout with maximum energy. They can also decrease your hunger and prevent you from overeating at mealtime.
The problem is, many store-bought snacks, even the seemingly "healthy" ones, aren't nutrient-rich, real food that helps sustain and nourish you. Simply put, most store-bought snacks aren't all that good for you.
Well hello there, highly processed!
Because we love looking at labels (we know, we're odd birds), we spent some time at the store checking out some of the big name snacks that fill our supermarket shelves. We wanted to see what ingredients most of these snacks were made with (peanut butter crackers, veggie chips, baked chips, granola bars and Chex mix, just to name a few).
What we found was mind blowing.
A common theme we noticed was that A LOT of the big-name companies (the ones that you and your kids would typically gravitate to) use sneaky words to trick us (the consumer) into thinking that their product is actually healthy. But, most of these snacks contained anywhere from 5 to over 15 unnecessary ingredients.
Some said natural but contained ingredients that were ANYTHING but natural. Others said low-fat but were filled to the gills with sugar, excess sodium, coloring and an array of ingredients we'd never heard of. The most frustrating thing was, all of these brands used savvy words as a marketing tactic to lead us to believe their snack was the real "healthy" deal.
So, how can we balance eating real food and living in the modern world with the convenience of some pre-made foods?
We realize in today's world it's almost impossible to completely eliminate prepackaged snacks from the average person's diet. As busy moms, wives and working women, it just isn't feasible to spend all our time in the kitchen preparing EVERY snack from scratch. Here are three of our BEST tips to balance real food with the convenience of some pre-made foods.
1. For starters, look at ingredients labels.
Next time you go to the grocery store, rather than trusting the label and simply tossing a snack in your cart, spend some time looking at the labels.
What should you steer clear of when it comes to snacks?
- Avoid flavored yogurts that have a high sugar content.
- Avoid highly processed granola bars with lots of added ingredients, sugars and trans fats.
- Avoid starchy, high-carb, highly processed snack foods such as pretzels, crackers, cereals and chips (including veggie chips).
- Avoid prepackaged fruit snacks, gummies and roll-ups.
- Generally speaking, avoid packaged snack items due to them containing hydrogenated oils, trans fats and being highly processed. These are often found at the checkout counter and inner aisles of the store.
- Avoid snacking when you’re not hungry.
Instead, aim for snacks made with:
- FfL-friendly (minimally processed, delicious and healthy) ingredients. For ease, we created a list of some of our favorite Easy to Pack Real Food Snacks We Keep in Our Car, Purse and Gym Bag
2. Focus on a variety of foods, and try to include a fat and protein.
These aren't hard and fast rules, but snacking on a variety of foods AND trying to include a fat and protein helps satisfy hunger pangs, stabilize blood sugar levels and provide fuel for your body.
Get creative and think outside of the box. These don't have to be something you would solely think of as a snack. In fact, we often pack whatever leftovers we have in the fridge or freezer. Some "outside of the box" healthy fat/protein snacks you would typically find in our house (all leftovers from the fridge or freezer):
- A homemade turkey meatball with a piece of cheese
- Low-Carb Blueberry Pancake Coins with a dollop of yogurt
- Half a Blueberry Apple Muffin paired with peanut butter
- Leftover spaghetti squash with a dollop of yogurt, apple butter and a dash of cinnamon
We know we say it over and over again, but batch cooking really is the Holy Grail to a healthy, real food lifestyle. Which leads us to #3...
3. Prepare snacks in bulk.
This is one of the most crucial aspects when it comes to simplifying your journey. Whenever you prepare healthy snacks, like granola bars or hummus, make extra. You can freeze your leftovers for days that escape you. We do this with not only snacks, but meals too. We've found it to be one of the BEST ways to successfully live a real food lifestyle.
Some of our favorite snacks for you to try:
We keep a printed copy of FfL's 70+ Simple Snack Ideas for Kids and Adults in our kitchen. We use it as a weekly reference and let our family help decide which snacks they want packed for the week. Here are a few sample snacks from the list:
Fruits and vegetables
- Some of our favorite raw fruits are: apples, cantaloupe, clementines and oranges.
- Some of our favorite raw vegetables are: carrots, celery sticks, broccoli, peppers and tomatoes.
- ¼ cup of dried or dehydrated fruits or vegetables with no additives or sugars. Dried apple chips and dried kale chips are two of our favorite dehydrated snacks.
¼ cup raw vegetables with
- 2 Tbsp. of a FfL-friendly veggie dip (made with plain Greek yogurt rather than mayo or sour cream)
- 1 to 2 Tbsp. nut butter
- 2 Tbsp. of guacamole
- 2 Tbsp. of hummus (made with FfL-friendly ingredients)
1/4 cup raw fruits with
- 1 to 2 Tbsp. nut butter. Our favorite post-workout snack is half a banana with a tablespoon of nut butter.
- ¼ cup of cottage cheese
Nuts and seeds
- A small handful or palm-size serving of raw nuts or seeds. Our favorite nut to snack on is raw almonds.
- ¼ cup of homemade or FfL-friendly granola or trail mix
Dairy and eggs
- ½ cup of plain Greek yogurt. Add a small amount of 100% pure vanilla extract and 1 tsp. of honey for a delicious flavor. Other additions: fresh fruit and/or ¼ cup of homemade granola
- ½ cup of cottage cheese with a tablespoon of unsweetened apple butter (made with apples, apple cider and water)
- A hard-boiled egg with a dash of salt and pepper or topped with hot sauce
- One homemade deviled egg using Greek yogurt rather than mayo
Other slightly random favorites
- Sliced tomatoes with a sprinkle of feta and EVOO
- ¼ cup of homemade Trail Mix. We make our own using cacao nibs, dried fruit and nuts.
- A tablespoon of nut butter on a whole grain brown rice cake with half a sliced banana. (The rice cake should have no added ingredients… just whole grain brown rice and salt.)
- Tuna, a tablespoon of plain Greek yogurt and herbs to taste
- 6 to 10 grilled shrimp with a tablespoon of cocktail sauce (not containing HFCS)
- Home-blended smoothies (about 1 cup prepared) that are heavy on the veggies and light on the fruit (¾ to ¼ ratio)
We hope this helps simplify things for you as much as it has for us. Just remember, SNACK-SIZE portions when packing these puppies!
To learn more about real-food basics, check out the rest of our Healthy Staples!
Struggle to Plan, Choose and Prepare Nutritious Snacks?
We created this guide to help you snack smart the fast (+ delicious) way! Whether a mid-morning food craving strikes or your kids are scavenging the cupboards after school, preparing delicious and nutritious snacks shouldn’t have to be complicated.