August 31st is National Trail Mix Day! Skip the overpriced, additive-filled packaged varieties and whip up a batch of this protein-packed Crunchy Chickpea Trail Mix!
You know those moms that carry a giant satchel-size purse around with them, filled entirely with snacks, *just in case* their kids get hungry?
Only… I don’t have kids. And my idea of a “fruit-by-the-foot” is an extra-large banana.
Whether I’m heading out for a day filled with activities or just taking a stroll to the mailbox, you better believe I’ll have a snack in hand. In fact, I would leave the house without my car keys before I would leave the house without snacks (you think I’m joking, but it’s actually happened). Hanger is a real thing people, and it can strike at any time. Best be prepared.
As a dietitian, I find that people are constantly surprised to learn that I snack multiple times throughout the day. But let’s get something straight here – I’m not munching on candy bars and cheetos all day long (although, in today’s society, those are exactly the kinds of foods that are synonymous with the word “snack”). Instead, I’m fueling my body with nutrient-filled foods, such as trail mix.
“Wait, but I heard trail mix is unhealthy??”
Traditional trail mix (consisting simply of nuts, seeds and dried fruit) is actually a very nutritious and well-balanced snack. But, over the years, the term “trail mix” has come to include a wide variety of snack mixes consisting of any number of ingredients. Today, hundreds – if not thousands – of packaged varieties exist, and not all of them are as nutritious as their ancestors… which can lead to quite a bit of confusion among health-conscious consumers.
So with National Trail Mix day right around the corner (August 31st!), I figured it’s the perfect time to talk about why it is that trail mix tends to get a bad rap… and, more importantly, why (good old fashioned) trail mix still deserves a spot in our (oversized) snack bags!
What people are saying about trail mix:
- It’s high in calories.
- It’s loaded with fat.
- It’s full of sugar.
- It’s high in
caloriesnutrients. It’s true that trail mix is not a low-calorie food. In fact, most packaged trail mixes run between 150 and 200 calories per ¼ cup (and who can stop at just ¼ cup??). But maintaining a well-balanced diet is about so much more than just counting calories; it’s about feeding your body the nutrients it needs to function at its optimal potential. From the protein in the nuts to the fiber in the fruit (and all of the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in between!), trail mix is loaded with all sorts of good stuff to keep your body doing its thang.
- It’s loaded with (healthy) fats. You’ve probably heard by now that “not all fats are created equal”. What this means is that the fats found in nuts and seeds are not the same kind of fats as those found in your triple bacon burger deluxe (aka the ones known for contributing to heart disease, obesity, and other chronic disorders). In fact, nuts and seeds are among some of the greatest sources of monounsaturated fats, which have actually been shown to reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke by lowering bad cholesterol levels. So if you’re still living in the fat-free craze of the 90s, it’s time to move on and embrace the (unsaturated) fat life.
- It’s full of (natural) sugars. Depending on the type of trail mix you’re eating, most of the sugar should be coming directly from dried fruits, such as cranberries, blueberries and raisins (okay, and maybe a little dark chocolate thrown in there, but that’s beside the point…) As long as these dried fruits have not been coated in excess sugar, the sugars found in dried fruit are no different than those found in fresh or frozen fruits. So why is it then that dried fruits contain so much more sugar than their fresh counterparts? It all comes down to the way dried fruit is created. In order to make raisins, water is removed from the grapes, thereby decreasing their size by about 3/4. So the amount of sugar in 1 cup of grapes = the amount of sugar in 1/4 cup of raisins. But it’s not just the sugar that is more concentrated in raisins – all of the other nutrients are too! This means that raisins, and other dried fruits, are just as nutritious as their fresh counterparts (you just need to be sure to practice moderation).
Keep in mind, the arguments above do not always hold true for packaged trail mixes, which often contain additives, such as sugar and hydrogenated oils. Luckily, the trail mix that I’m sharing with you today is super simple to make. The most labor intensive part of the process is roasting the chickpeas (and you could always substitute store-bought roasted chickpeas or leave them out altogether if you are pressed for time). And not only that, but you can easily tailor it to fit your own personal taste preferences and/or dietary needs. Allergic to almonds? Swap them for walnuts. No dried cranberries on hand? Substitute raisins, blueberries, or any other dried fruit. The possibilities are endless, my friends.
This unique combination of ingredients strikes the perfect balance of salty/sweet and crunchy/chewy. The addition of popcorn not only ups the saltiness and whole grain factors, but it also helps to bulk up the trail mix so that you can get more bang for your buck (because I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time limiting myself to just 1/4 cup of trail mix).
Although I’ve provided measurements for this recipe, I encourage you to use it more as a template or guideline and play around with different combinations. (Just a fair warning though, if you happen to *accidentally* pour a whole bag of chocolate chips into the mix, you may be looking at a dessert, rather than a snack…)
- 1-15oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- 1 tbsp pure maple syrup
- 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp chili powder
- pinch of salt
- 1 batch roasted chickpeas (see above)
- 1 cup lightly salted roasted almonds
- 1/2 cup unsalted roasted cashews
- 1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
- 3/4 cup dried cranberries
- 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
- 2 cups lightly salted popcorn
- Use paper towels or a clean kitchen towel to pat chickpeas dry as best as you can, removing outer skins as much as possible.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (important step for easy clean-up!) and place dried chickpeas in an even layer. Set baking sheet on the middle rack of a cold oven and turn oven to 400 degrees F.
- Roast chickpeas for 10 minutes.
- Remove chickpeas from oven and carefully transfer to a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and toss to coat.
- Return chickpeas to parchment lined baking sheet and roast in oven for another 25-30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Turn off oven once chickpeas are golden brown (but not burnt). Allow chickpeas to cool in warm oven for about 2 hours, or until they are nice and crunchy.
- Combine all ingredients (except popcorn) in a large bowl and toss to evenly distribute.
- Add popcorn and gently toss to combine.
- Store trail mix in airtight container for 3-4 days.
- Feel free to substitute other nuts, seeds, dried fruit, etc. based on food preferences or dietary needs.
- If you are actually taking this trail mix with you on the trails, you may want to leave out the dark chocolate chips, as they can make things a little messy when they melt!
- Although this trail mix can be stored in an airtight container for several days, it is best when eaten within 1-2 days, as the chickpeas and popcorn may lose some of their crunch the longer they are stored.