I like cookbooks. The ladies at the library circulation desk joke that they gain weight checking out my books just by looking at the cover photos. Like everything else, cookbooks run the gamut from amazing to terrible. But there is one topic on which cookbooks consistently disappoint: snacks.
Eating a clean, healthy diet does not eliminate the need for snacks. In fact, it sometimes makes them all the more crucial! But my definition of practical snack food includes essential criteria that most snack cookbooks do not: portable and storable. (Quick and relatively inexpensive are kind of important, too.)
Think about it. If you're headed out the door for a long, busy day on the road, are you really going to reach for a popcicle? Potato skins? How about some mini-burgers?
Of course not! You're going to grab a granola bar, a bag of pretzels or something else that won't lose texture, go bad or melt all over your vehicle!
Unfortunately, foodie websites often fail on this front as well. I've tried snack treats made from lentils, homemade crackers, protein balls, and a half dozen granola bar recipes. A few have worked out well, but most have been relegated to the "no thanks" pile.
The ones that do work often still rank low on the core criteria - few of them hold well (making it hard to ensure you'll have them on hand when needed), some don't travel well, and the best ones are usually expensive.
After lots of trial, error and frustration, here are a few things I've found to resolve the travel-friendly snack dilemma:
KIND bars - Although I usually try to stay away from pre-packaged food, these can sometimes be a life-saver. Individually wrapped and very shelf stable they can thrown in a purse or backpack and will hold up to the travel and temperatures until you're ready to eat them. They aren't cheap, but they're fairly priced for the quality and value - especially if you buy them by the box instead of individually. Keeping a box in the cabinet is a worthwhile investment for crazy days. Note: not all flavors are created equal! Some will be GF, soy-free and low sugar fruit-and-nut combinations. Others will have bad-for-you soy crispies. Make sure you read the labels and choose wisely!
Popcorn - If you pop your own at home (in a pot, not a microwave), popcorn is a cheap, filling, low-calorie snack that's fast and easy to whip up. It can also be made ahead and taken with you if you're planning a road trip or day out. Toss it with whatever toppings you like and store in an airtight container. It won't last forever, but it will hold well in any temperature and if you end up having to throw any out you'll only have lost a few pennies worth of investment.
Carrot sticks - (May sub baby carrots.) These hold relatively well, though extended exposure to hot weather may cause them to deteriorate noticeably. They're crunchy, healthy, and can be paired with a little container of your favorite dressing or nut butter for added boost.
Nuts/ trail mix - The key to using this snack effectively is portioning! Nuts are easy to overeat; they're nutritionally dense, so we really only need a handful at a time. But since they're small and quick to eat, most of us will consume much more than that before the chemical trigger in our brain registers that we're full. Ditto with dried fruit. Portioning your trail mix out into mini containers and intentionally eating it slowly will give you maximum bang for your buck and prevent this from becoming an expensive habit!
Beverages - This may seem like an odd thing to put on a snack list, but the reality is that most of us can't properly differentiate between hunger and thirst. We want something and automatically reach for food when in fact our body is often craving water. Drinking sufficient water (or an alternative healthy option like kombucha or water kefir) will reduce our desire for unnecessary munching and prevent the unhappy side effects of dehydration (which even in mild forms can cause cloudy thinking and headaches or contribute to skin problems).
Some of you are wondering why fresh fruit didn't make this list, and it really comes down to two simple reasons. (1) It doesn't hold well. (2) In cold climates, fruit can be extremely expensive for much of the year and hard to keep available for random snacking.
Small coolers (think lunchbox size or just a little bigger) can usually be picked up second hand or at an end-of-season sale for under ten bucks. If you plan to spend a lot of time on the road or at events it can be very worthwhile to stash one in your vehicle, pre-stocked with a few snack items. Rotate or restock it weekly and you'll always have a quick healthy food option available when you need it!