By JiJi Russell
Okay, I’m going to fess up about snacking, right up front. Not too long ago I thought eating snacks was strictly for children—and perhaps those who were interested in gaining weight (yes, such folks do exist). I had become increasingly upset by the American way of justifying eating at any old time, and the seemingly strange recommendation to eat “five mini-meals a day.”
I contended that no other culture on our planet eats this way . . . and no other culture shares our rate of obesity, diabetes, or any number of other chronic diseases and conditions that are contributing to our nation’s downward spiral of health and vitality. Moreover, our ancestors were not able to fuel up on a 300 calorie DRINK while they simultaneously scarfed a doughnut, all after paying for gas at the local convenience store. Why, then, should we do these things?
For several years I tried to purify my digestive system and stabilize my blood-sugar level by eating three meals a day with no snacks. It was a bit tricky at first, but after a month or so, it worked out just fine. It became a habit, and I stayed true to it even when dispensing snacks to the kiddos. A very important piece of learning came out of this long-term habit. I learned to make each of my three daily meals really mean something.
First of all, each meal had to taste good, full of fresh ingredients and herbs and spices (after waiting so long, it better be good). Secondly, I have learned how to pack more nutrition into a plateful of food than I had ever imagined (high-quality nuts, seeds, and oils are great for this). I also figured out how to make all the food I ate “count” toward improving my energy level. If it did not work toward this end, it was out. I always took notes of the good snack suggestions that came my way, but very rarely indulged.
Then something changed.
As a result of slight but uncomfortable joint pain and back injuries, I decided to get onboard with a diet that combats inflammation, a condition that is showing up as a precursor to many maladies. There are many anti-inflammatory diets one can follow. Most focus on eating whole foods, mostly fruits and vegetables. The diets also restrict common inflammatory triggers like sugar.
The diet I follow has a strict instruction to eat three meals a day, plus two snacks. There are specifications for the snacks, and they do have to be comprised of “real” food, primarily fruits and vegetables. But this new way of eating has opened up a new enthusiasm for me. I have discovered some really tasty and satisfying snacks, and I like that I don’t have to compartmentalize my eating. Snacking also has cut down on the portion size of my meals, particularly lunch and dinner.
Since it’s still a new year, and the moment presents itself for new habits, I will share a few favorite finds and creations. Each snack is easy to prepare and requires minimal ingredients. Enjoy!
Curry Roasted Chickpeas
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Drain and rinse one can of chickpeas. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with a high-heat oil (like coconut) to coat evenly. Spread in a single layer and roast until deep brown and crispy, tossing occasionally, 30-40 minutes. Remove and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of curry powder, a generous pinch of cumin, paprika, garlic powder, and sea salt. Place back in the oven for two to three minutes more. Remove and transfer to a paper-towel lined plate to let cool completely.
Yogurt and Frozen Fruit Treat
Use about 1/2 cup of your favorite plain or vanilla yogurt. Drop in about 1/4 cup of frozen organic berries like blueberries and raspberries. Mix together, allowing the berries to slightly freeze the yogurt. Enjoy while it’s cold (a great substitute for ice cream).
Cannellini Beans with Basil
Drain and rinse a can of cannellini beans. Drizzle two tablespoons of high-quality extra virgin olive oil over the beans, and sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper. Chop or snip a handful of fresh basil (or another herb of your choice) over the beans. Toss gently with a spoon. Eat alone, with crackers, or over a green salad.
Cut a bulb of fennel into strips, then small chunks, to yield about one cup. Sprinkle in about two tablespoons of shelled pistachios (or other nut). Cut up about six olives into quarters. Drizzle with balsamic glaze or olive oil and gently toss.
For snack attacks, stock the ingredients in the following recipes.
Fruit with cocoa-nut butter spread
Take a tablespoon of your favorite nut butter (almond; peanut; cashew; etc.); add a teaspoon of cocoa powder, and smash around with a spoon or fork to mix. Add a few drops of flax or sesame oil to moisten if necessary. Cut up a fresh apple, pear, or banana, and spread the cocoa-nut-butter spread over it for a satisfying snack.
Brown rice cakes with avocado
Take one rice cake and a ripe avocado. Slice the avocado and place the slices generously on the rice cake. Sprinkle with sea salt and/or spices including cumin and paprika.
DIY trail mix
Take a handful of your favorite salty, crispy, snack—mini pretzels, corn chips, rice or seed crackers. Break them up into small bite sizes. Add one tablespoon each of your favorite nut (peanut; almond; pistachio; cashew); raw pumpkin seeds; and dried fruit like currants, raisins, or cherries. Optional: Add about four dark chocolate chips. A trail mix that you make yourself is bound to be more nutritious and less laden with sugar and/or salt than a packaged variety, even the organic brands.
JiJi Russell, a yoga instructor and integrative nutrition health coach, manages the corporate wellness program for American Public University System in Charles Town, W.Va. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.