As bloated as I’ve gotten on christmas cookies and candy over the past few weeks, I’ve started yearning for a better snack food. OK, honestly, I’m not all that bloated, despite the huge quantities of delicious treats that our many loving friends and family members sent to us. It’s just that I can’t eat much candy at once. On top of that there’s the need to set a good example for Clara, who really does flip out and turn into an unhinged monster if she doesn’t get good, healthy meals on a regular basis. So unless I want to surreptitiously sneak a few bites of fudge while she’s in the other room, my candy consumption has been limited to a couple of after-dinner treats.
Still, I get the munchies, just like anyone, and I need a better snack than piles of christmas cookies, which are better eaten as treats than absently munched while working on something else.
I’ve got a few candidates for the perfect snack food. But first, what makes a snack ideal? It’s got to be portable, and it has to come in small, roughly bite-sized bits, so you can munch on it while sitting at a computer working, or while on the go. It should be crunchy or chewy. (Those of you who are also former smokers will appreciate the need to have a good oral fixation object.) It shouldn’t be ridiculously unhealthy — minimal transfats, no excessive salt, sugar, or cholesterol — and ideally it should be actually good for you. Some people would add that it shouldn’t have many calories, but I don’t care so much about that; I’m capable of exercising restraint, and if you add calories to the equation, the only candidate left will be rice cakes, which I despise. Finally, it should be not too difficult to procure, nor too expensive.
Obviously, this rules out things like Doritos and Chee-tos, which I love, but just can’t bring myself to eat all that often anyway. Plus, they’re messy.
An initial survey of the aisles of Trader Joe’s and Safeway turned up a few promising candidates: Triscuits, Trader Joe’s oyster crackers, raisins, and dry roasted unsalted almonds. Here’s a quick comparison of “one serving” of each:
6 Triscuits (28g): 120 calories, 4.5g fat (0.5g saturated, no trans fats), no cholesterol, 180mg sodium, 3g protein
Pros: Crunchy. Nice salty taste. Made with whole grains! Lots of fiber (3g).
Cons: A bit messy. Needs cheese. Lots of sodium (7% of the recommended daily value, which seems a lot, especially considering you’ll probably eat 24 triscuits, not 6)
14 oyster crackers (14g): 70 calories, 2g fat (none saturated, no trans fats), no cholesterol, 60mg sodium, 1g protein
Pros: Crunchy little pillows of joy.
Cons: Almost no nutritional value beyond calories. “Serving” is actually half the size of other snacks, so you should really double the above values. Kinda bland.
1/4c almonds (30g): 170 calories, 15g fat (1g saturated, probably no trans fats), no cholesterol, no sodium, 7g protein
Pros: Nuts are good for you, scientists agree. Huge amounts of protein. No worries about high blood pressure-inducing sodium overloads. 4g of fiber — more even than those whole grain Triscuits!
Cons: Hmm, needs salt. Mouth gets tired after chewing them for awhile.
1/4c raisins (40g): 130 calories, no fat, no cholesterol, 10mg sodium, 1g protein
Pros: Mildly sweet. Satisfyingly chewy. Everyone knows raisins are practically health food.
Cons: Slightly sticky (especially true of the inside of the bag). Annoying memories of “California Raisins” jingle.
My conclusion? There’s no clear winner. For guilt-free noshing, the almonds and raisins are probably the best bet, with a slight advantage going to the almonds because of their superior portability and lack of stickiness. For pure snacking enjoyment, the oyster crackers rule, though. The Triscuits — one of my favorite flavors — come in at the back of the pack, thanks to their crumbliness, oiliness, and saltiness. Do they make a low-sodium Triscuit?
Still, for all this research, I feel a little unsatisfied. Surely the perfect snack food is still out there. But what is it?