One of the most challenging areas in terms of improving our nutrition habits or eating healthy has to be in the area of ‘snacks’. And come exam time, there is always a crunch –literally! When I was a graduate student in the US, I used to have a huge bag of nacho chips by my desk to help me get through an all night of study. There was something about those chips that was addictive, possibly the combination of salt, spice, sugar and fat. But now I know better, and would never dream of giving my kids access to packets of chips during an exam.
But the question remains. What healthy (but tasty) snacks should you stock or make for kids that are taking their final exams or for yourself during a stressful work period or anytime of the year, for that matter? Here are some ideas from my kitchen:
Nutrient dense savoury snacks
Roasted Nuts and seeds: Peanuts, almonds, cashews, walnuts, pistachios, roasted gram (chana), sunflower, pumpkin, flax, sesame, watermelon, cucumber, melon. Nuts and seeds are high in protein, good fats, Omega 3 and 6 EFAs, B vitamins, magnesium, zinc and fibre. You can roast these separately or together and make a nice mix of nuts and seeds. Add a bit of salt and spices if you want a zing. Keep the portions small, though, since they are high in fat and difficult to digest. A daily fistful is good.
Makhana (fox nuts or lotus seeds): This product of a water plant is a traditional Indian snack that is low in calories, low fat, high fibre, gluten free and nut free and nutritious. Lightly roast the makhana with a little oil and salt and spices for a guilt-free snack.
Hummus: Hummus is a Middle-eastern dip/spread that has superfoods as its core ingredients – chickpeas (chole), sesame seeds, garlic, lime and olive oil. Hummus is easy to make, delicious and can be used in a variety of ways with many add-ins and garnishes (get the recipe on www.sharmilacooksforkids.com). It’s handy to have a box of hummus in the fridge or freezer for a tasty anytime snack. Serve hummus with veggie sticks, with crackers, on toast, in sandwiches. You can spice it up too. Our current favourite garnish is peri-peri seasoning.
Popcorn or steamed sweet corn: Homemade masala popcorn is a universal favourite and a good option to deep fried chips and snacks. So are steamed corn with herbs and spices.
Sandwiches and Sandwich Toasties: Sandwiches are an anytime food, from early in the morning to late at night. Stock a bunch of nutritious spreads and sandwich ingredients at hand – peanut butter, hummus, pesto, coriander chutney, good quality cheese, paneer, salad leaves, olives, tomatoes, cucumber and eggs. Like the popular street food joints, you can assemble a Bombay-style chutney sandwich or make an egg and chilli cheese toastie and satisfy a hunger craving anytime.
Yoghurt: Nutrition science is telling us that the key to good health is in the gut and so yoghurt, with its probiotic qualities that work directly on the gut and on our immune system, is a wonder food. And it’s versatile too. For a savoury snack, make yoghurt (hung curd) dip (serve with veggie sticks, crackers or even chips on occasion), buttermilk or add some to chaat (dahi puri).
Cheese and paneer (cubes tossed with salt, herbs/spices and oil) can also be nutrient dense, high calorie snack. Serve in small portions.
Dips and Veggie Sticks are a family favourite. With some prepping and planning you can easily make a range of vegetable based dips and spreads – besides hummus, there’s avocado guacamole, tomato salsa, vegan cashew cheese spread, basil/spinach pesto, eggplant babaganoush, cucumber yoghurt tzatsiki. All of these recipes are in my cookbook Everyday Love.
Bhelpuri and Dahi puri satisfy my family’s chatpata cravings and hunger pangs year round. Make the chutneys ahead of time and store them in the freezer. Stock puffed rice, puris, sev and roasted nuts. Use sprouted moong or cooked chana for dahi puri. For bhelpuri, mix in cut veggies of your choice – onions, tomatoes, potatoes, cucumber, capsicum, raw mango, coriander leaves etc.
Khakhra and lentil-based papads (dry roasted on the flame or in the microwave) or baked triangles of chapatis (we call them baked whole wheat crips) are a healthier alternative to deep-fried chips/snacks.
Homemade mixtures, chivdas or fried savoury snacks (in limited quantities) are also a healthier option to the store-bought commercial ones.
When one is tired and in need of a quick energy boost, there’s nothing like a sweet treat to perk you up. Reserve sweet treats for when they are really needed and not as a time-pass snack. My family favourite is a nutrient dense yet yummy granola bar that I make at home and always have at hand when we are in a rush or need an energy boost.
Remember that fresh fruit like bananas, apples, oranges, watermelon, mangoes etc. are one of the best ways to increase your energy, so do choose a fruit or offer your kids fruit over a sweet treat, any day. In our house, bananas or apples served with peanut butter are a regular breakfast or anytime balanced snack.
Here are some ideas for sweet treats that you can stock or make at home and store.
- Til/Sesame laddoos: These traditional Indian sesame, nut and jaggery balls taste great and are loaded with protein, calcium, iron and other minerals.
- Puffed rice and jaggery balls: A light and sweet crispy treat.
- Date and Nut energy bars: These are now popular as dried-fruit barfis in fancy mithai shops, but you can easily make them at home. See the recipe below
- Chikki made with peanuts, sesame seeds, roasted gram and jaggery etc. These are high calorie, so a few pieces are enough.
- Homemade baked treats like muffins, cake, granola bars, ragi cookies, oat cookies are the best substitutes for commercial biscuits and pastries. Make them in advance and store in the fridge or freezer.
- Sweet Yoghurt drizzled with honey and served with fresh or dried fruit and nuts is another delicious and healthy sweet treat. Use thick hung curd and you have an ice cream substitute.
- Dried fruit – dates, raisins, amlas, apricots, figs, cranberries etc.
Date and Nut Energy Bars
After years of baking my granola bars (with oats, nuts, seeds, dried fruits, jaggery and honey), I finally made a no-bake energy bar that I was super happy with – a sugar free date, nut and seeds bar that’s easy to make, delicious and healthy. It’s an energy boosting, good-for-the-brain, anytime snack and it will cost you less than a few bars of chocolate or a box of mithai. Store in the fridge or wrap in a cling wrap/foil for travel.
Makes 8 small squares
1 packed cup (200g) soft dates (medjool/muscat), deseeded
½ cup (75g) equal mix of almonds, cashews, pistas
¼ cup (25g) watermelon/melon/sunflower seeds
2 teaspoons ghee
- Roast the nuts on a medium-low flame until slightly browned. Cool and roughly chop by hand or in a mixie.
- Lightly roast the seeds separately and set aside.
- If you buy dates with seeds, deseed them first. Grind the dates in a chopper/mixie until they form a rough paste/puree.
- Using a wooden spoon or your hand, if needed, mix the chopped nuts and seeds with the date paste
- Heat the ghee in a pan, add in the date and nut paste and gently mix, allowing the dates to heat and soften and the ghee to blend in.
- Line a 7”x4” (approx.) rectangular box/dish with cling wrap. Spread the mix evenly, pressing it down and into the corners to make it even and firm. Set in the fridge for an hour or two. Cut into squares, remove the cling wrap and store in the fridge.
Note: You can use a mix of figs and dates, add in dessicated coconut/coconut flakes and/ora few spoons of khus khus (poppy seeds). Follow the same proportions as in the recipe.