A couple of weeks ago, Robin Roberts and company of “Good Morning America” invited me on the show to present a segment on low calorie snacks, called “Five Healthy Snacks Under 150 Calories.”
Developing the low calorie recipes was good fun—I wanted to offer things that were anything but average, and I needed to find some creative and tasty ways to make these snacks count as “functional foods.”
That is to say, I wanted them to have a real health purpose beyond just tiding us over until mealtime.
I got to work in my kitchen, pulling things off the shelves and dabbling with all sorts of different combinations of the healthy ingredients I had on hand. When it comes to healthy eating, the point is not to send yourself into a tizzy trying to find exactly the right kind of Blackstrap Molasses or Virgin Coconut Oil.
The idea here is to use what you and I probably already have on hand and look for creative ways to put delicious spins on what otherwise would qualify as distinctly boring, healthy snack options. Trying new flavor combinations, adding fun spices or simply paring down on some of the more fattening ingredients are all great ways to ensure that healthy eating stays exciting and easy!
After lots of brainstorming and product testing on my husband and various other helpless bystanders (not to mention a few samples for myself), the five final recipes are unique, easy and above all, delicious! From the Herbal Popcorn, the Spicy Fruit Pops or the Broiled Dates, to the Pizza Pita Chips or the Banana Whip, there is something here for everyone. Just ask the GMA family, who all stopped by during the segment for taste tests.The following recipes are easy enough for kitchen beginners, and promise to win you fans of all ages in the snacking department! You’ll also find a brief summary of why each of these snacks are worth their weight in nutritional gold. Basically, we’re making our snacking earn triple mileage for filling us up, tasting wonderfully and packing a powerful health punch. Enjoy!
Healthy Herbal Popcorn (makes 3 ½ quarts, popped):
Popcorn contains antioxidants called polyphenols, which, like other whole grains, work to protect the heart and reduce the risk of some cancers. The great thing is that popcorn comes to us in its unprocessed form, with the shell still intact and all the healthy nutrients locked inside. Popcorn is also a low-fat snack, with only about 30 calories per cup of popped corn. The coconut oil in this recipe will add about 120 calories per tablespoon, but it is a functional fat that is used to aid in digestion and lubrication, and may help to reduce weight gain! The herbs we’re using here have long been used as natural detoxifiers, and contain a wide range of vitamins and disease-fighting phytochemicals that have potent anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. And the brewer’s yeast is a powerhouse nutritional supplement that is a complete protein with all 18 amino acids. Remember to look for non-genetically modified, organic varieties of your ingredients whenever possible.
- 3 ounces popcorn kernels, approx ½ cup — pop without oil in air-popper
- 4 tbsp virgin coconut oil, melted
- 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 2 tbsp mixed dried herbs: dill, parsley, thyme and oregano
- *cayenne optional for a spicy variation
- garlic salt or sea salt to taste
Pop popcorn and sprinkle herb mixture over top. Drizzle melted coconut oil overtop and toss with hands to coat popcorn. Sprinkle with garlic salt or sea salt to taste.
Spicy Fruit Popsicles (makes 8-10 popsicles):
We’re getting a great source of protein in the Greek yogurt, and the coconut milk contains all the great nutrients of coconut meat, so it has antimicrobial and antiviral properties, is a functional saturated fat, and may help to lower bad cholesterol (LDL) levels, as can be seen in cultures where coconuts are a mainstay of the local diet. And cayenne is a great way to boost your metabolism since the capsaicin in cayenne raises the body’s heat index, revving up the metabolism as it works to cool your body down. Mango is a great source of Vitamin A, which helps maintain proper eyesight, and honey is a great all-natural sweetener with anti-viral properties.
- 3 (8-oz) containers plain Greek/strained yogurt
- 1 8-oz can coconut milk
- 1 (12-oz) bag frozen mango chunks
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 tsp cayenne
In a blender, combine the yogurt, mango and honey until smooth. Add cayenne and blend. Pour mixture into Popsicle molds, cap and refrigerate overnight or until solid.
Banana Whip (makes 1 large serving):
Bananas offer us protein, natural fats and carbohydrates our body can process well, plus a slew of nutrients, including potassium and magnesium. Plus, this whipped treat comes out so creamy and delicious, you’ll think you’re digging into a pint of ice cream!I first tried this at the Bent Spoon (an artisan ice cream shop in Princeton, N.J.) and it became a college staple for me because it tastes just like ice cream, but is made from pure banana!
- Freeze 2 small-to-medium bananas overnight
- Blend in a blender until smooth and creamy, adding a tablespoon of warm water or milk if necessary
Broiled Dates (4 servings):
Dates contain fruit sugars fructose and dextrose, which act as natural revivers and offer your body an instant energy boost in the slump of the afternoon or as a morning pick-me-up. They are also rich in dietary fiber, which helps to decrease the absorption of LDL cholesterol in the gut, and contain plenty of tannins, an antioxidant flavonoid that has anti-microbial properties and protects cell integrity. The walnuts will also provide some lutein, another great nutrient to protect eyesight, and great omega fats, essential for cell communication and proper lubrication throughout the body.
- 4 Medjool dates, cut in half lengthwise
- 1 oz goat cheese
- 4 walnut halves
- 1 sprig fresh thyme
Tear thyme leaves from stem and mash into goat cheese. Stuff each date with ¼ goat cheese and 1 walnut half. Place on parchment lined baking sheet and broil for 3-4 minutes.
Baked Spicy Pizza Chips (2 servings):
Whole-wheat pita is a great source of complex carbohydrates, which provide fuel to your body and lots of added fiber to stabilize your blood sugar and ensure you’re not running to the pantry or vending machine for another snack and hour after your first. The olive oil offers nice omega fats and flavor, while the herbs add vitamins and phytochemicals, and anti-inflammatory properties.
- 1 whole-wheat pita pocket
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- ¼ tsp red pepper
- ¼ tsp sea salt or garlic salt
- 2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese or vegan substitute
Mix oil with dried herbs and salt. Split pita pocket into its two halves and spread each with the oil mixture. Cut each half into 6 triangles and place on a lined cookie sheet. Bake in a preheated oven for 5 to 7 minutes at 400 degrees or until golden brown and crispy. Half way through baking, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and allow to melt, being careful not to burn.