Ingredient SpotLight

February is National Snack Food Month and I thought it would be a perfect time to spend a little time focusing on snack foods and how they can fit into a healthy lifestyle. Now, don't get me wrong ... I like potato chips too and I have even managed to fit them into my eating habits too. I make sure I only have them with a meal, I give myself a small portion and I generally do not keep them in the house otherwise to keep from tempting myself! But that doesn’t mean that I don't enjoy snacks in my home. I just spend a little time thinking about how to make sure they don't leave me carrying around a lot of extra weight!

First, before I consider any other snacking option, I ask myself if I can include fruits or vegetables with it. Most people don't get enough of them in their diets and snacks can be a great way to each that minimum of five servings a day. It can be as simple as making a smoothie with frozen fruit or dipping cut vegetables in hummus. Sometimes, I'll even just pull out some frozen fruit (grapes and pineapple are my favorites) and let it sit on the counter for a couple minutes before popping it in my mouth -- it's like the most flavorful sorbet you've ever enjoyed!

One change I made to our family's snacking habits years ago was opting to take a little extra time and make all of our cookies, muffins and other sweets from scratch. It gave me the opportunity to find healthier recipes and make things that cater to our particular tastes. It's also a great way to include additional fruit, vegetables and fiber in our diets!

Of course, sometimes we just crave something a little salty. That's when most people succumb to the potato chips. And if that's what you really want, go for it. However, I find that there are usually alternatives that I find suit me well. Baked tortilla chips and salsa are a personal favorite, although light popcorn sprinkled with some of your favorite seasoning can be divine as well. I've even made snack mixes from popcorn, pretzels, peanuts and cereal before.

To keep snacking healthy at my home, I like to make sure there are a few things always available. Here's a list to give you an idea:

  • Yogurt -- plain and flavored
  • Dried Fruit -- think beyond raisins to apricots, pineapple and mango
  • Light Microwave Popcorn -- if you have to reach for a kettle to make it, you'll probably just open a bag of chips
  • Peanut Butter -- used in small quantities, peanut butter is a great addition to many snacks
  • Assorted Vegetables -- either prepare them for snacking when you get them home from the grocery store or buy them in snackable sizes from the grocery store
  • Assorted Fruit -- make sure that you keep a wide variety on hand and do things like peel oranges and keep the segments in resealable bags or wash grapes and keep them in a container ... and we always have some in the freezer as well
  • Jarred Salsa -- fresh is great, but when you're having a snack attack, have this on hand
  • Baked Chips -- you can find tortilla and potato chips as well as unusual varieties like sweet potato chips
  • Assorted Nuts -- a simple mix of dried fruit and nuts can tide you over and offer a blend of fiber, healthy fats and energy to keep you going ... just make sure you watch portions
  • Skim Milk -- a must for smoothies and healthy shakes

And, of course, I couldn't leave you without sharing a recipe from my own collection. When good mangoes are available, as they are now, I love to mix up a batch of this salsa and put out baked tortilla chips when my family is feeling snacky or we have visitors. It's a great way to enjoy your fruits and vegetables!

Fresh Mango Salsa

  • 2 ripe mangos, chopped
  • 2 medium ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • ½ c. white onion, chopped
  • ¼ c. fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 small serrano or jalapeño chile pepper, minced
  • 3 T. fresh lime juice
  • ½ t. ground cumin
  • ½ t. black pepper, freshly ground
  • ½ t. salt

In a medium bowl, combine all of the ingredients, mixing lightly to blend. This salsa can be covered and refrigerated for up to 4 hours before serving. Serve with baked tortilla chips or use as a condiment for chicken or pork.

  • Yields: 4 cups
  • Preparation Time: 10 minutes