Snack like a chef: gourmet snack foods worth eating

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Midnight nacho runs aside, I’ve made an effort in recent months to look at what I eat more closely. I haven’t made drastic changes to my diet, nor do I intend to. Huge, sweeping changes never stick for me and anyone who’s been on a fad diet will experience what this does to your body: short-term success, long-term consequences. It’s more about the quality of food that I eat rather than counting calories and referring to the Nutritional Facts as a Holy Grail of nutrition. A little portion control hasn’t hurt either!

The fact is: I snack. We all snack, and a lot of us should snack more. When you skip breakfast or deprive yourself, your body will remind you later. And then it’s a bowl of pasta for lunch or the aforementioned Midnight Nacho Run. I’ve been trying to curb the latter by smarter snacking between meals so I don’t get into these situations of overeating. In addition, I have a hypothyroid condition which means that I’m not hungry in the morning and I’m a raving lunatic at night. Mr. Los Angeles has to listen to me around 8pm saying, “I’m really hungry for…” and then name something completely insane. He’s such a good sport. I’m surprised he doesn’t just check into a hotel during Shark Week.

So I’ve tried the carrot sticks and fresh veggie snacks and it just doesn’t do it for me. I need flavor and lots of it to satisfy me between meals. I also can’t seem to consume fresh veggies before they spoil. That’s a very weak argument but it’s a fact. In my effort to eat less processed foods, I have to eliminate any/all of those 100 calorie packs (like I didn’t eat 3 of them at a time…). Foods higher in protein and fiber are also a top priority, as both of those things curb your appetite and make your body happy. My snacks also have to be something that doesn’t need preparation. I’m not about to warm up the oven for a snack!

So I did what I do best and researched what chefs eat. They must eat, right? They must like tasty foods or they wouldn’t be good at their job. And I’ve seen Anthony Bourdain and I’m guessing he doesn’t have poutine for every meal, so what’s the deal? Here’s a list of snack suggestions that meet my requirements. They are not necessarily low in fat. However, they all are available at most grocery stores, are high in protein and/or fiber, are easy to prepare or require no preparation at all and are delicious!

Hummus and pita

Hummus and Pita

Via Flickr: fadetowhite

You may or not be a fan of hummus but have you tried it more than once? And have you tried different flavors? My favorite is the Sabra roasted garlic hummus. It’s smooth and you don’t get the sandy, granular texture that you do in a lot of other hummus varieties. I tried Trader Joe’s garlic hummus and I wasn’t a fan at all. Sabra also makes a lemon hummus that’s fantastic and is what got me started on the stuff years ago. Hummus has become more popular in recent years. Some of you might be thinking, “this lady just discovered hummus?” but in many parts of the country, hummus wasn’t a grocery store staple. Now you can find it everywhere. To keep this snack healthy, I get whole wheat pita bread. Not a fan of hummus at all? Go for the Tzatziki dips and sauces. This is where Trader Joe’s doesn’t let me down. Their version is very low in fact despite being a creamy yogurt dip and has paper-thin slices of cucumber in it.

Olives

olives

via Flickr: jurveston

I certainly have a Mediterranean palette thus far but olives pack a lot of flavor. The Greek variety will give your mouth something to do when maneuvering your way around the pit. Even my local Vons/Safeway/Pavilions has an olive bar with bleu cheese and garlic stuffed green olives. They have a long shelf life and are ready to go at a moment’s notice.

Hard Boiled Eggs

eggs

via Flickr: johnnystiletto

Lewis Black has a great bit about the health food pundits going back and forth on eggs. First they’re good for you, then they’re bad, then only the whites are good, etc. I’m putting this under the “good” column for a few reasons. They are basically pure protein and are the perfect vehicle for almost any other seasoning. My favorite is Lawry’s steak seasoning. I think this was another suggestion from my mom the purveyor of all things nummy, but my better-half loves a little sea salt. Unless you have a acute cholesterol problem, I think the nutrients in the yolk are worth the trouble. Egg yolks contain vitamins A, D, E and K, all of which are not contained in the whites. Also, egg yolks are one of the only foods where vitamin D occurs naturally. I always get the eggs with Omega-3’s in them so I must be balancing out the cholesterol risk, right?

For those of you who can’t walk into a room without putting hot sauce or Sriracha on something, this New York chef underwent a big change in his diet. One of his go-to snacks is an egg white salad with Sriracha. I think he used greek yogurt instead of mayo as well.

Also, I take the hassle out of cooking eggs with an egg cooker. I’m sure the gourmands out there are rolling their eyes but I’ve been using it for years and I get perfectly cooked eggs every time. It’ll do poached, soft-cooked and hard-cooked so what’s not to like?

Edamame

via Flickr: joyosity

via Flickr: joyosity

I have a hard time incorporating legumes into my diet and I’m sure I’m not alone. The hummus helps but I’m not big on lentils. In addition to all the benefits of soy, edamame is packed with protein and fiber and is the perfect vehicle for a variety of flavors. A little bit of minced garlic and some soy sauce will do it for me. Eating them out of the pod will pace your consumption but you can bypass the step by buying them de-podded and it’ll make it easier to add to a salad.

Chicken: bringing back the dark meat

chicken_breast_strips

via Flickr: foodthinkers

Here’s another food I’m accepting of in its entirety. Sure, the white meat has protein but it doesn’t have flavor and it doesn’t have a lot of nutrients. The nutritional differences between white meat and dark meat are negligible: the USDA (not that they are always right but I’m guessing they’re close on this one) has said that 100 grams of white meat contain about .59 grams of saturated fat and about 114 calories. The same amount of dark meat contains about 1 gram of saturated fat and 119 calories. Yes, that’s double the fat but are you eating a whole chicken? We’re talking about snacks here so unless you’re having a Food Beast moment, you should be snacking and having no more than about a cup’s worth of meat. Plus, dark meat is in the same family as egg yolks when it comes to vitamins and minerals: not as good for you as its lighter counterpart but probably worth the nutritional value.

So having pre-cooked chicken on hand means a little preparation. Here’s my advice: embrace store-bought rotisserie chicken. If you’re a Costco customer, the pre-cooked chickens are actually cheaper than buying a raw bird. All you have to do is bring home, try your best not to eat all that delicious skin, and cut up the chicken into manageable pieces. And if you’re like me and already have hummus and Tzatziki sauce in your fridge, you have a dipping sauce ready to go.

Lastly, there is one arguably healthy snack I have not included and that is trail mix. I love this stuff too much to enjoy it in moderation so I’ve had to stop buying it. Unless I’m going hiking or need a pre-workout food, this has to stay off my list. It is much too dense in calories to be healthy on a regular basis. That being said, all of the foods on this list are savory and Lord Almighty do I have a sweet tooth. Compromise? Get the dried fruit on its own, whether it’s raisins or cranberries or cherries.

Happy snacking!

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. I am not a nutritionist. I’m not even a chef. This is just a list of foods that work for me and some suggestions to those who are tired of celery sticks. If you’re looking for diet or health tips, please consult a physician.

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