The Seasoned Franciscan - Cooking Joyfully

Healthy Snack Ideas and Eating Mindfully

By International Functional Foods Association Staff with Vicki Lopez-Kaley on Monday, December 4th 2023

Snacks offer extra energy, a vital mini break or a tasty way to stimulate appetites as guests arrive for holiday gatherings. Snack foods come with pitfalls like lots of fat, hidden salt, processed sugar, empty calories, and overeating.  Scroll through these healthy snack ideas to get your snack creativity going.  They are provided in part (as is the photo above) from the staff at International Functional Foods Association.  This year my hope is that they help keep me healthy and deepen the practice of mindfulness in the midst of a few indulgent holiday treats!

Nutty Trail mix  A batch of trail mix blend is a quick and easy way to have a healthy snack on hand.  Use raw unsalted nuts, if possible.  Stick to a ¼ cup serving size to keep it healthy.
How to: Pick your favorites from this list and mix away!  Raisins, Almonds, Cashews, Brazil nuts, Macadamia nuts, Dark chocolate, Banana chips.  Add your own favorites!
Benefits: Nuts are nutritionally dense, high in protein, fiber, and antioxidants. They may support weight loss and reduce inflammation, plus lower risk of heart disease. Raisins are a healthy way to add sweetness.  Dark chocolate balances the nuts while providing antioxidants and can support heart and brain health.

Popcorn is one of the best snacks!  Ideally, it needs to be air popped or made with as little oil as possible and lightly seasoned. Microwave or movie theater popcorn unfortunately aren’t healthy options. 
How to: Pop plain ol’ popcorn then season it, making sure to stay light on salt and resist the urge to drown it in butter. Try lightly seasoning it with olive oil, curry powder, or nutritional yeast!
Benefits: Popcorn has high satiety, so even a little can help make you feel full. It has lots of fiber and antioxidants.

Citrus fruits are a quick and easy to grab.  Mandarins and oranges are an especially good pick during winter months and have a refreshing scent and health benefits.
Benefits: Fruits are full of fiber and fluid.  You get antioxidants and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Citrus has vitamins like potassium and vitamin C. Plus, it may be protective against health issues like diabetes, ulcers, hypertension, and more!

Dark chocolate
Benefits: Chocolate has lots of antioxidants plus it can also support heart and brain health. A few squares of dark chocolate can give you great benefits.  Pick a bar with a cacao content of 70% or greater since that means more actual chocolate and less sugar.  It also has been shown to improve mood!

SWEET SNACKS   If you crave sweets, these snacks will satisfy your sweet tooth without jeopardizing your health.        Healthy Banana Split or Fruit Sundae  Here is a healthy take on the ice cream shop classic. Other fruits work as well.
How to:  Peel and split a banana and place in a dish.  Instead of ice cream, scoop yogurt of choice on top.  Drizzle with honey or maple syrup.  Sprinkle with cacao nibs, a few tiny chocolate chips or chopped nuts.
Benefits:  Bananas support digestive health thanks to their fiber content. They provide potassium and vitamins B6 and C. Both bananas and yogurt have been shown to aid in weight management, so this is a great diet friendly option!

Homemade yogurt cups are fresher and healthier than most store bought versions, and you get complete freedom to make your own flavors!
How to: Dice fresh fruit of choice.  Lightly mash fruit until it's juicy but keep some chunks.  If desired, sweeten the fruit with honey or coconut sugar.  Add Greek yogurt, or coconut, cashew, or almond yogurt as a dairy-free option.
Benefits:  These are a filling high protein snack, which helps you feel full.  Fermented foods have probiotic benefits which are great for gut health.  The fruit provides fiber and antioxidants. While skipping the sweetener is best, using honey or coconut sugar which both have lower glycemic indexes, will help prevent a post snack energy crash.

Snack sized overnight oats  Since you make this the night before, it’s a quick snack to grab before work.
How to: Combine old fashioned oats with milk of choice.  Mix in a scoop of chia seeds (optional).  Add raisins or other dried fruit.  Refrigerate overnight in small containers.
Benefits:  Oats control hunger and prevent blood sugar from spiking. They’re full of soluble fiber and antioxidants.  Chia seeds provide protein and more antioxidants, plus they may also prevent blood sugar spikes and have a high satiety (aka how full a food makes you feel). Raisins are a sweet but healthy add-in thanks to their low-moderate glycemic index. They can also help to reduce your appetite and promote good oral health due to their texture.  Glycemic index refers to the rate at which a carbohydrate food is digested into a simple sugar, raising blood sugar.  Table sugar, white bread, potatoes have a high glycemic index and raise blood sugar quickly.  Complex carbs like oats, brown rice, raisins have fiber which slows digestion as do protein rich foods.

Nut and seed bread with ghee   Bread and butter is a worldwide staple snack. When made with whole grains, nuts and seeds bread it becomes a healthy AND functional snack.
How to:  Ghee is butter without the milk proteins.  It can be made at home from any butter and kept in a jar at room temperature.  The Pioneer Woman has a recipe with clear directions.

Benefits:  Nut bread has a high protein content which will help you feel full plus the nuts and seeds provide antioxidants, fiber, and can reduce inflammation and may lower risk of heart disease. Ghee is a perfect substitute for butter since it provides healthy fats without all the dairy solids.  A drizzle of honey add some sweetness,  antioxidants and minerals.

SAVORY SNACKS  If you prefer salty snacks but want to limit fat and salt, consider the following:
Hard boiled eggs are quick and easy.  You can make a batch to last the whole week. 
How to:  Put enough water into a saucepan to cover the eggs.  When the water boils, carefully lower eggs into the water.  Allow pot to come back to boiling.  Set the timer for about 15 minutes.  When it goes offdrain and cool the eggs in cold water to stop the cooking.  This steaming process makes peeling them easier!  Try new and fun seasonings beyond salt and pepper to add variety to this snack. Smoked salt, poultry spice blends, and chili powder are just a few.
Benefits:  Eggs are high in protein but low in calories and saturated fats. Eggs are also high in vitamins A and D and support eye, nerve, and brain health.

Homemade chips  Store bought chips are easy and tempting snacks, but you’ll thank yourself for making them out of sweet potato, kale or apples!
How to:  With a sharp knife or mandoline, carefully slice sweet potatoes or use clean, dry pieces of kale. Bake for 30 minutes at 400, 350 for Kale. For Apples, crisp a low oven (about 200 degrees F or less) or a dehydrator until crunchy. 
Benefits:  The lack of all the salt and oil found in store bought chips. Sweet potatoes are full of fiber and beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A.  Kale provides antioxidants and gives an immunity boost.

Baked cauliflower bites can be made ahead or enjoyed warm from the oven.
How to:  Cut fresh cauliflower into bite sized portions. Toss with olive oil and your favorite seasoning, such as Italian, curry mix, paprika, garlic.  Roast on a sheet pan until cooked and lightly crisp
Benefits: This can be an immune system boosting snack and both cauliflower and olive oil both contain antioxidants.  Olive oil may help support heart and brain health.

Whole grain toast with avocado, tomato and mozzarella can be adapted for all diets. 
How to: Toast bread and layer slices of avocado, tomato, and mozzarella. Drizzle with a little olive oil.
Benefits: Whole grain bread has more fiber, potassium, calcium, and magnesium than processed grains do. Avocado can support heart health while also providing fiber, key vitamins, and good fats. The fat also gives it high satiety to help you feel full.   Tomato slices provide fiber and more vitamins, especially folate and vit C which can support vision health.  Mozzarella provides some probiotics, can help reduce weight gain, and support bone health. A drizzle of olive oil adds flavor plus antioxidants.

Mini hummus tray
How to:  Click on the link for an easy recipe from Simply Recipes with canned or home-cooked garbanzos.  If you don't want to buy tahini, add a few toasted or raw sesame seeds to the processor or mortar and pestle for the taste of tahini.
Benefits:  Hummus is a powerhouse snack with high fiber and lots of vitamins and minerals (folate, iron, vitamin B6, and thiamin). It has polyphenols, which may aid in digestive health, weight management, and issues like diabetes. For snacking, keep serving size to 2 tablespoons.
Pairing veggies with your hummus adds fiber and vitamins and few calories. Red bell peppers are a classic choice but also try sugar snap peas, carrots, or even homemade veggie chips from above!

Happy snacking!  For more healthy snack ideas, check out suggestions from your favorite chef or from the International Functional Foods Association who offer a few more guidelines:

Portion size: IFFA says that snack foods should be about 10% of your daily calories. This usually is 150-300 calories depending on your needs. Snacking constantly is tempting, but more than two a day may put on some pounds if done as a regular habit.
Food groups! There are endless options but a good way to start is by picking an item from two food groups (like hummus + veggies). Or pick a strong functional food and build on that (like oatmeal + add ins). And if you need an easy single item snack, pick something with lots of fiber or from a food group of which you don't eat enough (like citrus).

Our beloved Labrador (nicknamed "Hoover" by his rescuers) ate each meal like a starved vacuum cleaner, as if someone might take the food away from him!  The opposite of "hoovering", mindfulness is a spiritual practice that allows slowing down to savor each flavor, texture and smell.   Slowing down to savor its flavor, we experience the pleasure of texture and smell.  Attention to each bite can improve digestion and help us be aware of the feeling of fullness.  A very common place to eat, believe it or not, is in a vehicle of some kind.  Rather than eating on the run or without attention, set a calm table for meals and small snacks as meaningful breaks in the day.   Take time to relax away from work and other tasks.  Mindfullness about food allows us to change our focus and be nourished and refreshed by the gift of breaking bread with others or in our own companionship.  How can we taste and receive the Bread of Life, if we don't savor food and make room for silence and mindfullness? 

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