Celebrate National Trail Mix Day by combining your favorite trail mix ingredients and taking a hike

Trail Mix Ingredients You Can Mix & Match

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, so the post has been reproduced here.

CELEBRATE NATIONAL TRAIL MIX DAY BY COMBINING YOUR FAVORITE TRAIL MIX INGREDIENTS AND TAKING A HIKE

The end of August signaled the end of summer vacation and the start of school to me when I was growing up, so I always felt a twinge of dread as it approached. That all changed when I learned August 31st is National Trail Mix Day. Trail mix has been a staple in my life and brought me endless pleasure as I’ve combined different trail mix ingredients to make batch after batch.

There’s plenty to celebrate about trail mix, even if you aren’t taking a hike!

Portable, nonperishable, compact and satisfying are the qualities that make trail mix the ideal travel food, whether on foot, bike, boat, or skis. You can customize your mix to make it savory, sweet, or spicy and opt for a crunchy, chewy or crispy combo.

Do’s and Don’ts of Trail Mix Ingredients

Chocolate is not a good idea if you (and your trail mix) will be exposed to warm temperatures since it will melt and turn your mix into a lump. Same for marshmallows and soft or sticky candy pieces.

Salty items will increase your thirst and add unneeded sodium if you’re not in the Amazon. Go for herbs and spices to add flavor, but be careful you don’t get carried away. You could end up with a culinary collision of Cajun-Curry-Chinese mix!

Calories can be lowered by using a higher ratio of cereal, popped and baked items to the dried fruits, nuts and seeds. Shoot for a 2:1 ratio to keep the mix under 200 calories a cup.

By using flavorful ingredients, like smoked nuts, cheese-flavored crackers or spicy bits, you can bypass the step of having to coat the whole batch with oil, season and bake as some recipes instruct. Skipping that step, and any fried or greasy ingredients, also makes it less messy to eat since you are using your fingers.

Mix and Match Your Trail Mix Ingredients

Cereal

  • Squares, like Chex® or Crispix®
  • Circles, like Cheerios® or Kashi Heart-to-Heart®
  • Woven, like Mini Shredded Wheat or Cracklin’ Oat Bran®
  • Balls, like Kix® or Barbara’s Puffs®
  • Chunky, like Granola

Nuts

  • Honey-roasted peanuts
  • Roasted soy nuts
  • Toasted corn nuts
  • Smoked almonds
  • Spiced walnuts
  • Shaved coconut
  • Cajun cashews

Seeds

  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Sesame seeds

Crackers

  • Cheese-flavored
  • Herb seasoned
  • Oyster crackers
  • Mini graham crackers

Dried Fruit

  • Cranberries
  • Banana Chips
  • Dark or Golden Raisins
  • Blueberries
  • Cherries
  • Apricots
  • Crystalized Ginger

Popped & Baked Snacks

  • Popcorn
  • Mini popped rice cakes
  • Popchips®
  • Pirate’s Booty®
  • Pretzel nuggets
  • Baked Oriental rice cracker mix
  • Wasabi peas

Check out my post about which is the best nut and to learn more about dried fruit.

What’s in your trail mix?

bored woman on couch eating chips and soda

Beating the Meal-Time Blues

AVOID MENU MONOTONY WITH THESE TOP TEN TIPS

Tired of eating mealy apples, over-priced cucumbers and tasteless tomatoes?

Feel like you’re filling your shopping cart with the same twelve bags of groceries week after week?

Do you dread another meal featuring chicken, broccoli and pasta?

You’re not alone.

In fact, you are suffering from a dilemma that goes back to the days of our pioneer ancestors. They had to get through the long, dreary months of winter making meals out of the foods put by after the last harvest in November. Root cellars were filled with potatoes, turnips and parsnips. Pantries were stocked with sauerkraut, tomatoes and applesauce. Salted or cured beef and venison had to be cooked into stews, and with any luck, traps would provide an occasional rabbit.

Given the winter menu, an orange in a Christmas stocking was a truly sumptuous treat!

But in our global marketplace, there really is no reason to let our meals become boring. Advances in jet travel, climate-controlled storage and high-tech packaging, as well as the wonders of things like hydroponic farming and bioengineered plants have made a greater variety of foods available to us all year round. There are even more options for organically grown produce and farm-raised chicken and beef than ever before.

So why are we in a rut? Because we are creatures of habit. Habits are a very important way we streamline our lives. Instead of getting up every morning and having to think about what we’ll do first, and then what to do next, we fall into routines: shower, get dressed, apply make-up, dry hair, make bed, pack lunch, drink coffee.

Just like putting the car on cruise control when speeding up the Interstate, we put our brains on cruise control to get though many of the tasks we have to perform each day – like planning menus, shopping for food, preparing meals. It’s just a matter of time before we fall into a rut.

Added to the monotony of eating the same foods for months on end is the physical confinement of winter – especially this year! There are no back yard barbecues, picnics in a park or lunches on the beach to break up the mealtime routines. All of which makes us much more vulnerable to uncontrollable cravings and spontaneous splurges to bring some excitement back into our mouths. There are some urges a caramel coated rice cake just cannot satisfy.

But all is not hopeless. Let me show you how you can end your diet doldrums and put some magic back into your meals!

1. REVITALIZE YOUR KITCHEN – Give your eyes a break from the same old scenery; anything can taste good when eaten with the right view. Check the Winter White sales and treat yourself to a new view in your kitchen.

  • Tablecloth or place mats and cloth napkins
  • Kitchen towels and pot holders
  • Slip covers or cushions for kitchen chairs
  • Window curtain or shade
  • Area rug
  • Silk flower arrangement centerpiece

I took down a balloon valance from my kitchen window last month to wash it and never put it back up again. The extra light that streamed into the room without it made it seem a lot brighter and more cheerful. The point is, make your kitchen an oasis, a welcome and comforting place to come home to.

2. REORGANIZE YOUR CUPBOARDS – You may not realize how many options you have for preparing food if you continually use the same cookware over and over. Surprises await you in the deep recesses of your kitchen closet.
  • Make the soup tureen accessible and keep parfait glasses handy for yogurt sundaes
  • Dust off little-used appliances and read the user manuals for inspiration – blenders, woks, pressure cooker, bread machine
  • Find the power cords for electric griddles and frying pans and attach labels so they’re ready to use any time

3. WELCOME SIGNS OF SPRING – You don’t have to wait until the ground thaws to enjoy the bounty of summer.

  • Force some flowering bulbs in a vase
  • Plant window sill herb pots for instant flavor in a pinch
  • Sprout beans for added crunch on sandwiches and salads
  • Splurge on fresh raspberries and make shortcake for dessert
  • Buy a soft, ripe mango to cut-up and freeze for a quick sorbet
  • Halve a pineapple, carve the fruit out and refill with a tropical fruit mixture – cubed pineapple, sliced papaya, and banana

4. PLAN A PICNIC – Duplicate the foods, even if you can’t capture the atmosphere. Picnic basket and cooler are optional!

  • Make potato salad with red skinned potatoes
  • Rub herb-infused spread on frozen ears of corn then microwave
  • Toss shredded red and green cabbage with seedless grapes for a tangy coleslaw
  • Squeeze lemons for fresh lemonade
  • Spread a checkered cloth on the living room floor and gather round!

5. EXPAND YOUR RECIPE REPERTOIRE – A widely quoted statistic says most households use the same ten recipes over and over again in a cycle. No wonder we’ve got the blues.

  • Browse through your cookbooks, recipe files, magazines or the weekly paper for new ideas
  • Pick ONE new recipe a week to sample at a meal. It could be a muffin for Saturday morning, a salad dressing for Sunday dinner, a different crumb coating for the chicken cutlets, a seasoning blend for string beans, or a new topping for the apple crisp. Just make a point to try something new every week.
  • At the end of one year you will have tried 52 new dishes. Even if half were losers, you’ll still have 26 new ones to incorporate into your menu cycle again.

6. INDULGE IN THE UNKNOWN – With over 50,000 items on your grocery store shelves there are sure to be some that you haven’t tried yet!

  • Start off with something new from the many varieties of fruits and vegetables in the produce aisle. How many varieties of mushrooms have you tried or Asian vegetables?
  • There are grains galore to choose from, all with cooking instructions right on the package from couscous to quinoa.
  • Don’t forget the dried peas, beans and lentils and many new meat substitutes

7. CHALLENGE YOUR TASTE BUDS – Intensely flavored food is more memorable and more satisfying than one-dimensional tastes in food.

  • Instead of a sweet, syrupy prepared salad dressing, use balsamic vinegar or an herb-infused vinegar mixed with a fruity olive or aromatic nut oil
  • Don’t be afraid to use a little real cheese to boost flavor without a lot of fat. Buy a wedge of Parmesan and grate over your pasta or soup, keep some pungent Roquefort on hand to crumble onto salad, get the sharpest Cheddar you can to shave on to your chili.
  • Fill the pepper mill with assorted whole peppercorns then be sure to pass it round the table at meals–you welcome it when dining out, so why not in your own home?
  • Are sun dried tomatoes a staple in your cupboard yet, and how many types of chilies do you keep on hand?

8. KEEP YOUR JAW BUSY – My biggest complaint about fast food is that is has no texture, and I like to chew. Here are some ways to make your meals more crunchy and chewy.

  • Use multigrain breads and rolls with kernels and seeds and thick hearty crusts.
  • Add dried fruit bits to cereal, rice dishes, stuffings, muffins
  • Snack on corn nuts, roasted chick peas, Dutch pretzels
  • Sprinkle some Grape Nuts® cereal into your yogurt or salad

9. REDISCOVER THE BOUNTY OF BREAKFAST – All the non-breakfast eaters I know are breakfast fans when on vacation or invited to brunch. By keeping more interesting selections available every day of the week breakfast can become your favorite meal of the day.

  • Omelets filled with salsa and served with warm corn tortillas
  • Frozen Belgium waffles topped with sliced strawberries
  • French toast prepared in a baking dish the night before so it can soak up the batter, then baked in the oven and dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon in the morning

10. FILL THE FREEZER WITH QUICK BREADS – Fruit and nut breads freeze well and are a great way to use up over ripe bananas. Make double batches to enjoy as a healthy snack or simple dessert when smeared with cream cheese.

  • Jack up the cinnamon, cloves and ginger to tempt the taste buds with the flavors of homemade apple pie!
  • Wrap individual slices before freezing for a portable snack

Enjoying our food is our most human quality after language. Like good conversation, eating should be stimulating, thoughtful and entertaining. I hope you found a few ideas to help make the remaining weeks of this miserably snowy winter more enjoyable!

Don’t eliminate good for you foods from your diet based on a single ingredient

9 Good For You Foods That Get A Bad Rap

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, so the post has been reproduced here.

DON’T ELIMINATE THESE 9 GOOD FOR YOU FOODS FROM YOUR DIET

Some foods that get a bad rap are actually good for you foods that should not be eliminated from a healthy diet. The problem is some people like to judge foods based on a single ingredient or nutritional feature without regard to the total contribution the food makes to the diet. That’s just not right.

Why judging foods and ingredients too harshly is flawed:

  • New information about what’s in our food and what we need to be healthy is continually being discovered
  • How much and how often we eat something is more important in determining risk-benefit than any single attribute of a food.
  • If you remember Woody Allen’s proclamation in the movie Sleeper, you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s just a matter of time before once forbidden foods become forgiven foods. Think coffee, wine, and chocolate. Who knows what’s next?

Eggs, potatoes, nuts, olive oil, and avocados have already been redeemed. Then there is the whole new world of phytonutrients – those naturally occurring compounds in plants with powerful health benefits – that are being found in foods we never expected to be superstars, like mushrooms, onions, and garlic.

The key is to keep moderation in mind for everything you eat since too much of anything can be harmful. And here are some foods you definitely should not abandon.

9 Good For You Foods That Get a Bad Rap

Cheese – Fill nutrient gaps for calcium and phosphorus with cheese and get a versatile source of protein that can take center-stage in a meal or make side dishes taste better. Research shows people whose diets include cheese have lower risk factors for metabolic syndrome.

Bananas – Available year round for about 35₵ each, bananas are an affordable and satisfying snack. Don’t worry about that fact a banana has more calories than a grape; you’re far more likely to eat too many grapes, but not too many bananas.

Coconut Oil– Not all tropical oils are the same, meaning high in artery-clogging saturated fat. The main saturated fat in coconut oil is lauric acid, a medium-chained fatty acid than can actually increase good HDL cholesterol levels. It is also known for its antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antiviral properties.

Lean Pork – Pigs are being fed and bred to provide cuts that are as lean as skinless chicken. Look for pork tenderloin, top loin roast, center loin chops, and rib chops to add some variety to your meat menus.

Dark Meat Chicken –It may be a bit higher in calories and fat than breast meat, but skinless chicken legs and thighs have other advantages. Dark meat is less expensive than light meat and much more flavorful, so you’re less likely to prepare it with lots of coatings and gravy that add fat and calories.

Vegetable Juice – Low sodium versions can be used to get needed vegetable servings into your daily diet when no raw or cooked vegetables are available. It’s also a great base for soups and sauces that you can season as you like.

Dried Fruit – Naturally sweet and delicious, dried fruits can be nibbled on instead of candy while helping you get the recommended 2-4 servings of fruit each day. Use dried blueberries or plums Amazins (dried plum pieces) anywhere raisins are called for when cooking and baking.

Peanut Butter – Like hummus, peanut butter is made from a legume and is a versatile source of protein. It can be incorporated into any snack to help you feel satisfied longer so you won’t keep snacking. Unlike hummus, it can be paired with sweet or savory foods, like apple slices, celery sticks, whole grain crackers or caramel rice cakes.

Granola Bars – Whether looking to get a boost in whole grains, protein, energy, or all three, there’s a bar to meet your needs. Some are enriched to provide additional vitamins and minerals, but their best feature of all is that they’re portion controlled and ready for on-the-go eating. While not great as a meal replacement, they can be the perfect cookie replacement!

Be sure to check these other posts on the same topic:

  • Peanut Butter: The Food That’s in 90% of US Households!
  • The World’s Most Popular Drug: Caffeine
  • Cheese is a Great Source of Protein, Too!
  • Getting More Fruit in Your Diet With Dried Fruit