Line up campers! This post is about how to make some common healthy snacks healthier.
Do you often take the easy way out for breakfast, lunch or healthy snacks and grab some uninspired premade packaged yuck to satisfy your hunger? Or have you graduated and realized that with a little planning and hardly any extra effort, you can assemble something that tastes better, is cheaper and a whole lot healthier? Either way, you should read on for 50 ways to up your game (not to be confused with the ways to leave your lover).
The inspiration for this post came from a Karma Sense Wellness follower on Facebook. The follower’s name is Bruce Simon. Bruce is in that latter group but he’s looking for ways to level up his healthy snacks and meals. Specifically, this post talks about some mainstream “cuisine” such as peanut butter and jelly (PB&J) and oatmeal but touches on some other “leveling up” strategies you can adopt in other ways.
The Healthy Snacks Request
Karma Sense Wellness is fortunate to have an active community that wants to take control of its health. People participate in many ways and one of our active posters is Bruce Simon. Bruce is a cool dude. He lives in Hong Kong with his lovely wife Janette. Bruce and I went to the same sleepaway camp where he is a bit of a legend.
Let me explain. Like most sleepaway camps, some kids just came back every year. When those kids were no longer old enough to be campers, one of two things happened. Many moved on with their lives. They got jobs or traveled or did something constructive with their summers. Others of us failed to launch and we came back to camp to work. We had the maturity of preteens and the hormones of late-teens. This was a guaranteed path towards mischief and sometimes when the mischief escalated, the camp administration would ask us to permanently leave the premises (a euphemism for being fired).
Unfortunately, Bruce experienced this sort of involuntary separation. Most people in his situation would leave beautiful Milford, PA for the comforts of home and a summer of cooking fries at a local fast food joint. Not Bruce. Bruce relocated about a quarter mile deeper into the adjoining woods where he camped for the rest of the summer. He depended on those of us who managed to stay under the radar of management for whatever food we could sneak to him and company we could offer.
Two of the easiest foods to commandeer from the mess hall were PB&J or boxes of cereal. Not only were they easy to sequester but they also were some of the more edible options on the menu. They were simple to make and harder for the crack staff in the kitchen to experiment upon (another euphemism the thought of which makes me slightly ill). I personally spent more than one summer eating nothing but PB&J and cereal. So it brought back endless warm feelings of nostalgia when I got the following post on the Karma Sense Wellness Facebook page.
This post exudes with Bruce’s personality. And I could see that his summer in the woods had instilled a lifelong passion for PB&J and for oatmeal. The rest of this post gives many quick ideas on how to improve the health profile of what he’s doing. With a little imagination, you should be able to apply them to foods other than Bruce’s survival kit. I offer this knowledge bomb below but first,
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Healthy Snacks Version of Peanut Butter and Jelly
Peanut butter and jelly: I now use peanut butter with as little added sugar and hydrogenated oil as possible. I take 2 spoonfuls (more or less as with all ingredients) peanut butter and mix with 1/2 a banana, maybe a couple of blueberries, raspberries or strawberries and mush together. I can also add a little cinnamon. I use fresh fruit for the sandwiches.These are great. No added sugar or other ingredients that come in jelly.
This staple of our youth has a lot going for it. With the right mixture and type of bread, peanut butter and jelly (fruit), it’s a nutritional powerhouse. What Bruce is doing here is smart. Here are some ideas for, as Emeril would say but probably never said about peanut butter and jelly, kicking it up a notch.
Healthy Snacks Peanut Butter
The biggest way to level up Bruce’s PB&J is to eliminate the hydrogenated oils completely. In most places in the world, it’s possible to get natural peanut butter that contains nothing but ground peanuts and maybe a little salt.
Hydrogenated oils are trans fats, a synthetic type of fat that’s known to raise the levels of bad LDL cholesterol and cause heart disease. Experts agree that the tolerated upper limit for trans fats is zero. That means it is not safe in any quantity. Check out the ingredient list of the peanut butter you use and be sure it contains no partially hydrogenated oils. Choose so-called “natural” peanut butter.
Many people find natural peanut butter inconvenient because the oil separates from the rest of the product. To make your life easier, before opening it, store the container upside down. This will force the separated oil towards the bottom and make the stirring easier once you open the jar.
After you open the jar and do your initial stir, store your peanut butter in the refrigerator and the oil will remain mixed.
Speaking of mixing, you can mix things up a little by using different kinds of nut or seed butters. Almonds, cashews and sunflower seeds all make delicious spreads. By using different varieties, you take advantage of the wide range of nutrients inherent with each nut or seed since each is unique in the types of vitamins, minerals and healthy fats they contain
Never opt for low-fat versions. The fats in nut butters are good fats and most often, manufacturers replace the fat with sugar or other nasty ingredients.
Healthy Snacks Jelly – A Hack
Skipping the jelly and using fresh whole fruit is a brilliant move on Bruce’s part. But if you prefer the consistency of jelly or if you really want to supercharge the sandwich here is a simple and elegant hack.
- Choose the fruit of your choice and mash it up.
- Add whole chia seeds and stir the mixture. Use about 1 part chia seeds for every 4 parts of fruit
- Let the mixture sit overnight in your refrigerator
Overnight the chia seeds absorb the liquid of the fruit and the concoction begins to gel. This works best with juicier fruits such as berries or with frozen fruit that has thawed. If using a dryer fruit like peaches, you may need to add some water or lemon juice. Just remember that lemon juice will make your jelly tart.
The beauty of this hack is that every ounce (28g) of seeds you add increases the fiber of the jelly by a whopping 10 grams and the protein by a respectable 5 grams. Also, chia seeds are a great source of omega 3 fats, an essential fat that most people don’t get enough of.
Here is a video of me making some strawberry chia jelly.
Here is a link for a bona fide recipe for chia fruit jam.
Healthy Snacks Bread
I know from separate conversations with Bruce, the base of his sandwich is always a whole grain bread versus bread made from refined grains. If you’re not avoiding gluten, this is a fine choice. Watch for added sugar in your bread. Two great whole grain breads to consider are Ezekiel Sprouted Grain Bread, which contains no refined flours at all or Dave’s Killer Bread which is a little more mainstream but uses primo ingredients. And don’t worry, the Dave who makes killer bread is not the same Dave writing this post so there’s no danger of mistakenly eating something you don’t want to. No crickets are harmed in the making of Dave’s Killer Bread. Since Bruce lives in Hong Kong, neither of these options
Since Bruce lives in Hong Kong, neither of these options are available to him.
Other alternatives include using a whole grain tortilla. The nutrition isn’t significantly better than that of bread but since you can roll it up, you only need one tortilla which will have fewer calories and carbohydrates than two slices of bread. Finally, patronize your local bakery. Get to know the fine folks who run it and they’ll be more than happy to give you insight into their best and healthiest options. Buy local.
Healthy Snacks Version of Oatmeal
Oatmeal: I use mostly instant oatmeal. Add fruit same as for yogurt and a little cinnamon. Also, add almonds if you like.
If you eat grains and you’re not eating oats, you’re missing out on one of the most nutritious grains for your money. Recently, I did an exhaustive comparison of all the different grains available. Oats easily rose to the top.
Once again, adding your own mix-ins to oatmeal is superior to using any preflavored instant oatmeal you can buy. You’re always better off when you control your own destiny versus letting the Quaker Oats man decide how much sugar is right for you. He may not be as sketchy as the kitchen staff at Cedar Lake Camp, but I can’t vouch for that. Regardless, instant oatmeal still isn’t the best choice.
To get the full benefits of the nutrition and fiber of oats, choose steel cut oats. It’s true, they take longer to cook but you can cook up a big batch when you have time and save the rest for later. The second best choice is whole rolled oats. They are closer to steel cut oats when it comes to nutrition but easier to cook.
Here are two great ideas for non-instant rolled oats.
Healthy Snacks High Protein Oat Meal
This highly satisfying version is packed full of good nutrition and the egg adds six extra grams of protein.
- 3 ounces rolled oats
- 1 egg
- ¼ cup milk or milk alternative
- 1 ½ teaspoon ground flaxseed
- 1 Tablespoon natural peanut butter
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ ripe banana, mashed
- Measure out milk in measuring cup.
- Add egg and beat until mostly mixed.
- Mix ingredients together in a pot on the stove; turn to medium heat.
- Cook, stirring frequently until mixture reaches a normal oatmeal consistency and the egg is no longer runny. Takes about 5 minutes.
- Your body doesn’t digest whole flaxseed which is why it should be ground. You can buy flaxseed pre-ground or grind it yourself.
- Thanks to the egg, flaxseed and peanut butter, this recipe has about 15 grams of protein.
Healthy Snacks Overnight Oats
If you don’t have ten minutes to spare to do the above, try making overnight oats. This involves mixing oats with various liquids and other tasty ingredients and letting it sit overnight. The next day you have a delicious fiber-filled breakfast. The internet has tons of recipes but this one gets extra points for incorporating healthy coffee and chocolate (although the maple syrup means added sugar).
Other Healthy Snacks Comments
Bruce had a lot of other worthy comments in his post so let’s do a lightning round:
- Change Isn’t Easy – True. We’re genetically hardwired to resist change and to develop habits around our simple tasks so we can concentrate on the more challenging such as ducking a flying spoonful of oatmeal coming your way. That programming doesn’t care whether the habits are good or bad for us. And the longer we hold onto habits, the less mindful we are about their effects. Unless you’re one of those baby geniuses (an underrated film), we learned to eat a long time ago and so it takes a conscious effort to be mindful about what we eat, how we eat and how we feel as a result of our choices. The best way to reprogram ourselves away from bad eating habits is to:
- Practice mindful eating.
- Make it more difficult to execute those bad habits.
- Make small incremental changes that hardly seem like changes at all.
- The Younger You Are, The Easier it is to Change – Also true. But it’s not too late for any of us. You may develop a habit when you’re ten years old or younger. You may keep that habit into your twenties, thirties and on into old age. In most cases, it is no harder for a seventy-year-old to break a fifty-year habit than it is for a thirty-year-old to break a ten-year habit. Smoking is a great example. It is one of the hardest habits to break. Many people choose to break that habit after forty years and succeed. It’s more about finding the right means to the desired end.
- Adding a Little Cinnamon – Cinnamon, like many herbs and spices, is an excellent food additive. Many people associate its flavor with sweet foods and this guilt-by-association works in our favor. Add it to foods that benefit from sweetness and you can often get the satisfaction you’re looking for without actually adding sugar. Furthermore, there is moderately strong evidence that cinnamon reduces bad cholesterol, triglyceride levels and the blood sugar spikes that normally occur when eating high carbohydrate foods. If you’re a cinnamon snob, the three most common types are Ceylon, Cassia and Saigon. Unless your cinnamon container states otherwise, it probably is the Cassia variety. Saigon cinnamon seems to have the most beneficial health effects. Cinnamon degrades over time so that three-year-old jar you have in your spice rack is probably worthless. For best results and shelf life, buy whole cinnamon sticks and grind it yourself. Finally, don’t use too much as cinnamon contains some harmful substances. Restrict use to no more than 4 grams per day or 1½ teaspoons.
- Yogurt – Your best bet is Greek or one of the other variety of strained yogurts as they contain more protein by volume. When you use a large container of yogurt, you often see a clear liquid that separates from the creamy part. Don’t discard the liquid. Stir it back in. That is the whey that contains much of the protein. Feel free to use full fat or reduced fat yogurt instead of no fat versions. There is nothing wrong with consuming the fat in yogurt. Many people don’t find the fat free versions to be very satisfying so they end up binging on something else that isn’t healthy. And like Bruce, stir in your own fruit and nuts. The premixed and fruit on the bottom varieties are almost always full of sugar and other unnecessary but nasty ingredients.
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