Each Tuesday, Learning Liftoff will offer a snack suggestion to fuel hungry students. Some will be conventional, others not-so-much. But each Snack of the Week will be simple to prepare and designed to put a healthy spin on foods your kids will enjoy eating.
We start our series with a snackfood staple: trail mix.
Who doesn’t love trail mix?
The beauty of this anytime snack is that you can make it with a wide variety of healthy ingredients, picking your child’s favorites. Another advantage is that it can be prepared in advance.
By its very nature as an energy source, trail mix can run high in calories, so pay attention to the ingredients and limit portion size. Also, as you mix, try to limit the salt and sugar content of your selections. Remember, a little goes a long way to provide students with a boost of energy or to fulfill the desire for a quick snack.
But it’s worth noting that in a comparison between trail mix and granola bars by EatingWell.com, Associate Nutrition Editor Lisa D’Agrosa suggests trail mix to be the healthier option, mostly because of the high amount of sugar necessary to hold granola bars together.
Trail mix ingredients to consider come in several groups:
- Fruits—Raisins are a trail mix favorite for their sweetness and constant availability, but are relatively high in sugar. Dried blueberries and cranberries can be great alternatives, but beware that most have sugar added. Other dried fruits such as apples, apricots, unsweetened pineapple, and pears merit consideration, but tend to be expensive. Unsweetened coconut and dried banana chips provides alternative twists.
- Nuts—Roasted peanuts, almonds, cashews, walnuts, and hazelnuts are all excellent choices. Also consider shelled sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds (low in carbs) to add nutritional value. They’re also ideal for kids with nut allergies.
- Grains—Cereals that are very low in sugar and small pretzels provide excellent content. Granola, Cheerios, and Shredded Wheat are easier than flakes to handle and to munch. Crackers such as Goldfish work well, as do Teddy Grahams. Plain popcorn can add some bulk to the mix but does not keep as well as other ingredients. “Many of these grains will absorb moisture and become soggy, so plan to make them last-minute additions,” suggests noted author, dietitian and nutritionist Jo-Ann Heslin of NutritionExperts.com.
- Sweets—A little chocolate is a great add and a true treat. Consider M&Ms or baking chips rather than chocolate chips because they won’t melt nearly as easily. Butterscotch chips make for a nice change of pace. Some like to add mini marshmallows—in moderation—as a bonus.
Mix your selected ingredients in a large bowl. Parents might consider snack-sized sandwich bag servings to limit the amount of calories consumed at any one sitting. Remember to store any leftovers in an airtight container to preserve the crunch. No one wants their trail mix to become a stale mix!
As always, Learning Liftoff relishes your input. Tell us about your favorite ingredients or a twist you’ve put on your own trail mix.
And, if you have a favorite healthy snack recipe, please share it in the comments section.