Caregivers are often on the go taking care of their loved ones. It’s easy to forget about your own health while you are busy caring for others. Instead of grabbing quick processed junk food, let’s look at some healthy balanced snack ideas that will keep you feeling alert and energized.
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As a nurse, lifestyle medicine practitioner, and health coach, providing healthy balanced snack ideas to clients is something I do all day long.
I thoroughly enjoy educating and teaching people how to design a healthy lifestyle. One that works uniquely for them, and where they feel they can sustain it for the duration.
However, when I became a caregiver myself, for my guy who has Parkinson’s, I had to remind myself of the same principles I was teaching others.
Adding caregiving responsibilities on top of my already busy days made it easy for me to neglect healthy food choices.
I initially developed the bad habit of not eating all day and then grabbing something quick, usually processed and unhealthy, around dinnertime.
I began feeling heavy, weighed down with very little energy, and depressed. Not good.
I did turn this around pretty quickly because I knew exactly what I was doing. Something I’ve told my clients not to do. But I had to come up with some quick, healthy, and balanced snack ideas in order to stay on track.
What Makes A Snack Healthy?
There are several factors that make up a healthy snack – fresh, quality, unprocessed, full of vitamins and minerals, etc.
In my opinion, the first question one should ask themselves if they are trying to snack healthfully is, “Is it processed?”.
Meaning, where did that snack food come from? Was it something that grew from the ground like a vegetable or grain? Was it something that came off a tree, like a piece of fruit?
Or was it something out of a package and came from a food manufacturing plant? If so, then the food you are about to consume is not a whole, real food but rather something that is processed.
Now that isn’t always a bad thing. In this day and age, there actually can be lightly processed foods that are still pretty good for you. Things like granola or protein bites or even some types of chips and crackers.
But the goal is to eat as many unprocessed foods as you can in your day, including the snack foods you eat.
What Makes A Snack Balanced?
When it comes to balanced snack ideas, it’s good to have a complementary ratio of protein, carbohydrates, fat, and fiber.
These macronutrients provide energy for our bodies. When foods are processed and unhealthy, or made in disproportionate amounts, you may not always feel your best.
In order to fortify your body with healthy vitamins and minerals, it’s important to eat a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods and in proportionate amounts of protein, carbohydrates, fat, and fiber.
What Is A Nutrient Dense Food?
Nutrient-dense foods are real, whole foods, grown from the land that contain plenty of vitamins and minerals in relation to their weight. They also sustain us and provide healthy nourishment to our bodies.
I like to make a game out of building very nutrient-dense-rich meals, and I make it a challenge to see just how many nutrients I can get in one meal.
For example, organic steel-cut oats with a dollop of honey and some plant-based milk are a beautiful nutritious meal.
But when I add a couple of tablespoons of ground flax seeds, a bit of shredded coconut, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and a handful of nuts and seeds, well then, my already nutrient-dense meal explodes even more with a tremendous amount of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Making your meal as nutrient-rich as possible is a great way to take great care of your health, and will help you feel energetic and strong as a busy caregiver.
How To Build A Perfect Balanced Snack
When it comes to building a healthy nutrient-dense snack, think about these three factors. They are a simple formula and a good rule of thumb.
- Fat + Protein (F+P) – pair a protein with healthy fats OR
- Carbohydrate + Protein (C+P) – pair a protein with complex carbs AND
- Avoid Carb + Fat – keep the high carbohydrates and high fats together to a minimum, especially the processed kind. Examples are doughnuts and pizza.
There are three macronutrients, and protein helps your body repair and make new cells. Protein is the building blocks of life and they build and maintain bones, muscle, and skin.
Examples of plant-based proteins:
- nuts – almonds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, cashews, etc.
- nut butter – almond butter, peanut butter, cashew butter, hazelnut butter, etc.
- seeds – pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, etc.
- seed butter – tahini, pumpkin butter, etc.
Carbohydrates are another macronutrient that breaks down into glucose, which is the main source of energy for your body.
- whole grains – rice, oats, buckwheat, farro, amaranth, etc.
- fresh vegetable
- fresh fruit
Fats are the third macronutrient, and our bodies need small amounts daily for energy and to help absorb vitamins. The key is small amounts because fats contribute in part to the level of your cholesterol.
Fat Examples – healthy and plant-based:
- nuts and seeds
- very dark chocolate (70% cacao and greater)
- olive oil or avocado oil – you definitely do not need oils in your diet and a little bit goes a long way.
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate and is important for digestion, helping you feel full, and the prevention of constipation. It can also aid in weight loss if you were so inclined.
Most people do not get enough fiber in their daily diet, which is why I am including it as part of putting together a nutritious snack.
- whole grains
NOTE: Animal products, including dairy and eggs, contain zero fiber.
VIDEO: Healthy Balanced Snack Ideas
Protein Fat Snack Ideas
Here are some of my favorite snacks when it comes to eating protein.
- celery sticks with almond butter or peanut butter and hemp seeds sprinkled on top
- chia pudding – using plant-based milk like almond or flax milk
- seed crackers with smashed avocado or guacamole on top
- oatmeal with nuts, seeds, and berries, and maybe just a touch of pure maple syrup
- peanut butter energy bites – I like to call these fat bombs – but healthy fats nonetheless!
Carbohydrate Protein Snack Ideas
Here are examples of some easy snacks that include healthy and delicious complex carbs.
- whole grain crackers or tortilla chips with hummus
- baby carrots with hummus
- whole grain bread with almond butter or peanut butter or tahini
- cucumber slices with hummus
- plant-based Greek yogurt (plain organic yogurt) with granola or homemade trail mix
High Fiber Snack Ideas
Many of the foods above are also high in fiber due to their being plant-based. However, here are more examples of high-fiber foods for an afternoon snack.
- carrot sticks and other sliced veggies with a nut-based cream cheese spread
- edamame – also high in protein, and so fun to eat!
- kale chips and salsa
- whole grain tortilla chips and bean dip (without added oils and sugars)
- popcorn (without added oils)
- NOTE: I use an air-popper to eliminate using oil and butter for making popcorn.
- green smoothies – made with leafy greens and fruit.
- Medjool dates with melted dark chocolate – YUM!
AVOID: High Carbohydrate, High Fat, High Sugar Processed Food
When you are looking for healthy snack ideas, aim for whole, real, unprocessed foods.
I also avoid eating a meal or snack that contains a high amount of carbohydrates along with a high amount of fats and added sugar, especially the processed unhealthy kind.
Over time, this could lead to insulin and blood sugar issues. I say could because everybody is different, and a lot goes into blood sugar regulation, including one’s activity level. In general, this is what I do my best to avoid.
Examples of High Carb/High Fat/High Sugar Foods (aka junk foods)
- Ice Cream
- Chocolate & Caramel type candy – milk chocolate, peanut butter cups, candy bars, etc.
- Pasta with fatty sauces and cheese (ex. fettuccine primavera)
- Fried foods – french fries, etc.
- Fruit juice – this may not be a high-fat food however fruit juices are devoid of fiber and have a high amount of concentrated sugar. I would rather eat the entire fruit to gain all of its nutrients and fiber.
Helpful Balanced Snack Idea Tips
Sometimes, if I am feeling stressed or anxious, I like to snack on foods that have a crunchy texture like carrots or celery. They are low-calorie and also contain lots of fiber.
Some of my favorite snacks have a sweet/salty flavor to them like a sliced Medjool date with a bit of almond butter and a dash of sea salt. Use your imagination to cover a lot of different tastes and textures.
Snack time can be anytime but a time that works well for me is around 4 pm when I’m trying to finish work at my desk but am running out of energy.
I don’t want to ruin my next meal so I make a point to avoid making it a mini meal but rather just keep it to important nutrients in small proportions.
That said, creating a satisfying snack is a great way to control one’s appetite along the way.
If you have a sweet tooth like I do, a great way to indulge is to go for foods that contain more natural sugars like fruits, including dried fruit, However, dried fruit, like fruit juice, does have a high concentration of sugar so I wouldn’t go overboard.
Nuts and seeds are a good source of protein and they are a great snack. But they also contain high amounts of fat so, like the highly concentrated sugar foods, I would eat nuts and seeds sparingly.
10 Unhealthy Snack Foods & Better Alternatives
Some of the most popular snack foods are the least healthy and not very good for us.
All of the below unhealthy snack food items are loaded with saturated fat and sugar. They provide little to no nutrients, however, there are better alternatives to choose from.
So when hunger strikes, try one of these healthier alternatives instead.
NOTE: The alternatives here are healthier but not necessarily healthy! All of these snack foods should be saved for those occasions when you are REALLY craving a particular junk food.
(*My choice – this would be my option.)
Traditional potato chips are deep-fried in unhealthy oils. They are loaded with saturated fats, and sodium, and can also contain toxic compounds due to them being cooked in rancid oils.
- whole grain chip made with a higher-quality oil.
- low sodium baked potato chip.
- *no salt, whole grain, pretzels.
Most store-bought cookies are filled with poor-quality oils and sugars, including corn syrup. A homemade cookie with quality ingredients will always be an improvement.
- whole grain cookie made with real organic sugar and zero butter or oils.
- whole grain cookie made with a sweetener like honey, maple syrup, or apple sauce and either no butter or oils or a better quality oil.
- *homemade cookie made with organic ingredients with or without a natural sugar
Again, regular dairy ice cream is filled with saturated fat and sugar.
- non-dairy, low-fat, ice cream.
- non-dairy, low-fat, low-sugar ice cream.
- *frozen bananas blended in a strong blender with dates and a touch of maple syrup.
Probably one of the worst junk foods one can eat. I know I know…don’t shoot the messenger! Loaded with saturated fats and sugar, and maybe even toxic compounds due to the deep frying.
- *a quality bagel. Better if whole grain. Cinnamon raisin-type bagels will give you some sweetness like a doughnut (I said SOME!) 😉
- homemade coffee cake, pancakes, or waffles – some kind of breakfast-like sweet.
Commercial cheese crackers are oftentimes made with a chemically made cheese flavor and not real cheese. They too contain unhealthy fats and lots of sodium.
- organic baked real cheese crackers.
- organic low-sodium plant-based cheese crackers.
- *air-popped popcorn with apple cider vinegar and nutritional yeast (One of my favorites! NOTE: Watch my YouTube video for how to make this healthy popcorn.)
Tortilla chips are fairly easy to replicate in a more healthful manner. The traditional ones have lots of unhealthy fats and are very high in sodium.
- organic, low to no salt, tortilla chip.
- organic, low to no salt, whole grain tortilla chip – maybe even baked.
- *organic fresh whole-grain tortillas, cut into triangles like a pizza, brushed with a touch of avocado oil and a pinch of sea salt, and then baked in the oven.
Again, fried in unhealthy oils, and high in sodium.
- sweet potato fries cooked with a healthier oil like olive oil or avocado oil.
- baked fries in a healthier oil and little to no salt.
- *organic potatoes, sliced thin, brushed with a touch of olive oil and a dash of sea salt. Baked in the oven.
Candy (Peanut Butter Cups)
Commercial peanut butter cups are made with very poor ingredients and lots of fillers. They are high in saturated fats and sugars – a terrible combo.
- high-quality dark chocolate peanut butter cups.
- *Medjool date, sliced in half with organic peanut butter slathered on top. Melted dark chocolate drizzled on top, along with a pinch of sea salt.
Chocolate can be okay to eat in small amounts if it is of good quality. Dark chocolate will be more nutrient-dense than milk chocolate. Aim for 70% cacao or greater.
- dark chocolate
- *organic, 70% or above, good quality, dark chocolate
Soda is one of the most popular junk foods in America, and it also has zero nutrient value. It is loaded with sugar and is nothing but empty calories.
- carbonated drinks made with real fruit juice
- alternative sodas made with a plant-based sweetener like stevia or monk fruit
- *herbal iced teas – I like to make my own
Healthy Habits For Caregivers
The best part about healthful snacking and consuming nutritious foods is the way you feel. My clients report having so much more clarity and energy.
And for those who wanted to lose weight? Well, those were the bonus points they received for eating clean. Unwanted, unneeded pounds virtually disappeared with very little effort.
Learning to make healthy snack recipes is a great opportunity to educate the entire family on healthy eating habits, and especially with the little kids.
In this day and age, it is easy to fill a child’s diet with unhealthy processed foods. Teaching younger children portion size and how to choose a well-balanced snack, as well as having smart snacks available to them, is all part of a healthy diet.
Learning to make a balanced satisfying snack takes a little practice but I promise, you do not need to be a registered dietitian to do so.
It will take a bit more mental energy in the beginning but you will get the hang of making the best snacks in no time and a healthy habit will be formed.
And, as an added bonus, you will feel great doing so!
Check out these other nourishing recipes and joyful living tips for busy caregivers
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