If you've become frustrated with your snack options, this weekend, be proactive – a few more moments in the kitchen in the beginning of the week will lead to healthier grab-and-go options for your busy life, says registered dietician Cristin Dillon-Jones, and blogger of Self's Eat Like Me.
Rather than following a strict diet regimen, Dillon-Jones opts for a more natural approach to healthful snacking: everything in moderation while making sure that the ingredients she stocks in her kitchen are wholesome.
As a working mom, she finds this way of healthy eating works best for her busy schedule. "I would rather cut out sugar and fat from other sources in my diet so that when I sit down to have a cookie, I can have a real cookie and enjoy it," she says.
Especially now, when it's still too cold to play outdoors, use these moments to prep your kitchen for your week ahead. Stock healthier ingredients and try your hand at baking your own granola bars or muffins to makeover your diet, one snack at a time.
"When looking to make healthier snacks for yourself like muffins or granola bars, look for ingredient lists that incorporate whole wheat flour to get in some fiber rather than just all purpose flour, and include other whole grains like rolled oats, oat bran, wheat germ and bran," suggests Dillon-Jones. "The fiber will make the food more satiating and filling. Whole grains are also a good energy source and add a little protein - not much, but every little bit helps."
Having the right ingredients on hand will help you make healthier substitutions when you aim to add nutritional value to a recipe. Here are some of Dillon-Jones' healthy recommendations:
Dairy. Plain yogurt, skim milk, and buttermilk are great alternatives for whole milk. Be sure to play around with buttermilk, which often creates the same texture as whole milk, says Dillon-Jones.
Oils. Opt for olive oil or vegetable oils to limit trans-fats or saturated fats.
Nuts and seeds. Bulk up the nutritional value in a recipe with different types of nuts and seeds. "In a recipe I use for banana bread, I add a whole cup of walnuts. While there's a lot of fat, it's healthy fat, and provides a lot of omega-3 oils, which are great for your heart."
Fruit. Try dried, frozen, or fresh fruit to add sweetness naturally, or even fruit preserves. "The sugars from the fruits will leech out, for a natural sweetness, and while fruit preserves don't really add nutritional value, you are still adding flavor without fat."
Natural sweeteners. Use brown sugar or honey instead of artificial sweeteners. "Never use artificial sweeteners as a straight substitute," says Dillon-Jones. "While sweeteners like Splenda provide equivalents, others won't necessarily give you the texture or rise you need in a baking recipe, and could alter the flavor."
Eggs. If a recipe calls for six eggs, use three whole and six egg whites to cut down on fat and cholesterol. For most recipes, two egg whites can replace one whole egg.
Spices. Warm spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, ground ginger are all great for adding flavor when baking without fat. And don't be afraid to experiment – even curry or black pepper added to baked goods can really bring out the sweetness of a snack.
Dark chocolate. Include bits of dark chocolate or cocoa nibs to your homemade snacks for a little sweetness and a delicious dose of antioxidants.
For added convenience, Dillon-Jones also keeps a few boxes of whole grain muffin mix in her pantry. She suggests mixes like Hodgson Mill, which provide the base for a simple muffin recipe – all you need is an egg, a teaspoon of oil, and whatever healthy ingredients you would like to throw in.
No matter the recipe, Dillon-Jones says feel free to experiment. If you are making your own granola bars, play around with adding brown sugar or honey (depending if you crave a crunchy or chewy texture) and experiment with the ratio of rolled oats, nuts and fruit. And, if you lack time to bake, just throw everything together as a trail mix with whole grain cereal.
"Healthy food has come so far, the choices are unlimited," says Dillon-Jones. "You can really make healthier versions of everything you enjoy." It's just a matter of doing it.
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