DIY: Trail Mix

I hope you all had the happiest/merriest hannukah/x-mas/kwanza. Now onto trail mix. It’s a great snack.  And, it’s so easy to make.  Making it at home will save money AND involve your kids if you let them choose and mix the ingredients.

Nuts are a nutritional power house – they provide healthy fats, fat-soluble vitamins, like vitamin E, and protein that help satiate us. Dried fruit provides vitamins, antioxidants and fiber.

However, beware tail mix is calorically dense, meaning it’s high in calories for the portion. That’s because dried fruit, as the name indicates, is fruit that has been dried of water, leaving only the concentrated fruit sugar. And, nuts are high in the “good” un-saturated fats (healthy fats are still calories). Despite the high calories, the other healthy factors (vitamins, antioxidants, fiber, protein) make it a nutritionally dense food that can be a great snack. Like most good things in life that have limits, so too with trail mix. Portion control is key. We’re talking 1/4 cup or  about a handful.

Simple Steps to Do-It-Yourself Trail Mix:

1. 1 cup of nuts of your choice, preferably unsalted (almonds, cashews, peanuts, walnuts, brazilian nuts)

2. 1 cup dried fruit of your choice (raisins, cranberries, diced apricots, diced prunes, diced dates)

3. 1/4 cup dark chocolate if you’re really craving chocolate

4. 1/4 cup seeds of your choice to boost the fiber load (flax, pumpkin, sunflower seed)

5. Add a dash of sea salt — it’s better to buy unsalted nuts and add in the salt yourself this way you can control how much salt goes in there. Feeling crazy? Spice around. A dash of chili or cayenne powder never hurt a handful of nuts.

6. Mix all together. Store in plastic bags at room temperature(if your house gets hot, put it in the fridge to prevent the chocolate from melting).

Viola! Quick and easy. Key to portion control – don’t eat out straight out of the bag or else there’s no stopping. I’d suggest dividing ~1/4 cup portions into separate little baggies, but that wouldn’t be very earth-friendly now would it?

Got Munchies? Ice Cream & Frozen Goodies Edition

Now that you are all increasing your fruit & veggie intake since reading my last post, it’s only fair we talk about ice-cream and other frozen desserts.

Here are the scenarios. You’re strolling down the freezer aisle and you your child sees the goods. The ice cream. Or while running errands  you “happen” to walk by the new ice cream store that opened in town. Myriads of colorful labels and flavors start infiltrating your brain. What do you do?

Ice cream is made of cream, which is essentially full fat milk plus some more fat, and sugar. Cream and other animal fats are saturated, heart-clogging fats. Ice cream’s one redeeming quality (other than being delicious) is that it has a proportionate amount of calcium to milk. While it may not be the most nutritious food, you can manage to incorporate it into a healthy diet. All ice cream is NOT created equal, and there are ways to make better choices that help cut fat, sugar and calories.

Survivor Tips for Ice Cream:

1. Flavors. The simpler, the better. Caramel swirl, mud tracks, cookies n’ cream, dolce de leche all add sugar, fat and calories. Better choices are coffee, chocolate, vanilla and strawberry.
2. Cup or cone. My vote is always for the cup. Cones = more sugar, fat and calories.
3. Portion. Keep it to 1 scoop if going solo, 2 scoops if sharing. And, there’s nothing wrong with ordering a kid’s cup.
4. Toppings. This is where it gets ya. Hot fudge, M&M’s, orea crumble (my fav), sprinkles, gummy bears… I think you know where this is going. Yes, they will all make your cup more unhealthy. If you must have crunch try crushed nuts or plain chocolate chips, preferably dark chocolate to get some antioxidants. Many stores now offer fresh fruit toppings (cherries in syrup do not count). Fresh bananas on vanilla ice cream tastes amazing.

It’s all a give n’ take. If you want a crazy flavor, skip the toppings or cone. And, you definitely want to lay down the law with your kids (and yourself) before going into the store. Because once you enter, all ration goes out the door. Negotiate. They can either pick 1 topping or a cone. Or, 2 topping if one is fruit. If they want 2 scoops, they need to share the second scoop with their mama or siblings.

While nothing can replace ice cream, there are some lower fat alternatives that taste good. Just as a general rule of thumb, when companies take out something tasty (fat) they usually compensate by adding in more of something else (sugar or stabilizers). So be careful; if I’ve taught you well, you will read the labels. 

Now for some good ‘ole label comparing (using my favorite frozen-yogurt and sorbet brands):

                                                         

                                          

                                        
                                                                                                                              

Choosing fro-yo or sorbet instead of ice cream saves you about 150 calories, 14-16 gm of fat and 9-10 gm of saturated fat per 1/2 cup. That’s a big difference. Sorbet tends to be higher in sugar (in this case by 1-5 gm) to compensate for the lack of fat. I like Sharon’s sorbet because it’s really just fruit + sugar + stabilizers. Benefits of fro-yo are its active cultures, which are the  “good bacteria” that help with digestion and its whey protein concentrate that make it higher in satiating protein. But remember, frozen yogurt and sorbet still have calories and sugar so try to stick with the survivor tips above.

Oh yea, and my thoughts on Tasti-D Light? Tastes like a bomb of chemicals melting in my mouth. I’d much rather sorbet, fro- yo or smaller cup of ice cream any day.

You Say Hummus, I Say Chummous

Hummus is hands down one of my top five favorite foods both for its taste and its nutrition. It’s a delicious combo of chickpeas + tahini (crushed sesame seeds) + lemon and spices. However it causes an internal conflict on a weekly basis, if not more. I learned of the food in Israel where it is pronounced Chummous. But here it is pronounced Hummus.

This is going to be a total detour, but I cannot think of another way to explain the difference in pronunciation besides finding a random YouTube video of an Israeli saying the word:

And here is how us Americans pronounce it (and this video has a good recipe idea):

The few times I’ve attempted to pronounce it the correct Middle Eastern way I’ve gotten a blank face in return, so I retreated to the American version, which I am far less fond of but at least people will understand.

Ok, now back to what I really wanted to talk about. Hummus is relatively low in calories and fat and high in fiber and protein compared to other dips and spreads like guacamole, ranch dressing and any other cheese or mayo based concoction.

It’s got a reputation for being a dip, but it’s more versatile. I’m pretty creative with my food combos, which developed from a refusal to allow any of my groceries go to waste. Any food that is on its way to spoiling must be be used,  some way, somehow.

Here are some of the non-traditional and healthier ways to use hummus:
1. Base for salad dressing – thin it out with some water or apple cider vinegar.

2. Tuna, chicken, egg or potato salad – a flavorful and lower fat/calorie substitute to mayo (a “sneaky” way to incorporate some extra fiber into your kids’ tuna sandwiches).

3. Bagels and lox – who needs cream cheese when you got hummus. Skeptical? Try it.

4. Substitue for ordinary “empty calorie” non-nutritious condiments (mustard, ketchup) in burgers, wraps. I’ve even tried it with fries.

5. Binder for breading – instead of an egg, try hummus to keep your breadcrumbs on your fish or chicken.

Now, hummus isn’t just hummus. There are tons of brands and flavors with different ingredients and nutrition panels. I like the classic or garlic varieties. Choose more natural brands with an ingredient list you can recognize. I’m suspicious of the “…and other natural flavoring” line. If you can’t specify what these flavorings are, I don’t want it.

I compared 4 brands. A 2 tablespoon serving (c’mon who stops after 2 tbsp) weighs in from 40-70 calories, 1-3 gm protein, 1-3 gm fiber.

Abraham’s Roasted Garlic                                           Sabra Classic

                                             

Trader Joe’s Mediterranean Style                   Tribe Classic

             

My favorite is homemade (recipe to come), but Trader Joe’s and Abrahams are best in terms of taste and nutrition. Abraham’s is lowest in calories while TJ’s is highest in protein and fiber.

Stay tuned for hummus recipe.