There's nothing quite as satisfying as dipping into a bag of trail mix during that afternoon slump at work. And when your mix is high in protein, healthy fats, and a good balance of salty, spicy, and sweet, it's sure to keep the hangry at bay.
Sure, you could head to your local grocery store and pick up a bag, but the real question is whether what you're buying will actually satisfy your munchies and provide enough nutritional bang for your buck. Unfortunately, many store-bought brands are calorie-dense (meaning, there's high calorie count per little volume) and heavy on the sugars and fats. The good news? You can DIY right in your own kitchen, for a healthier, cheaper, and even tastier snack.
Here, dietitians and food bloggers weigh in on their coveted tips for making the perfect blend, as well as a few staple recipes.
1. Go For Variety
A rule of thumb? Mix things up (literally). "Use a variety of roasted tree nuts and peanuts and mix them with dried fruits like raisins, wild blueberries, and mango," says Elizabeth Shaw, MS, RDN, CLT, Nutrition Communications Consultant at Shaw's Simple Swaps, Fertility Nutrition Expert at BumpstoBaby.com, co-author of Fertility Foods.
What's more, stick with dry ingredients, only. "I would not recommend using any fresh foods, like fruits or vegetables, since they definitely can cause the mix to spoil, and trail mix made with dry ingredients has a long shelf life if you make a big batch," adds Shaw.
A great example? Her Pumpkin Pie Spiced Nuts mix. Combining almonds and walnuts for a dose of healthy fats, pepita seeds for some crunch, pumpkin pie spice for a flavor kick, and cinnamon to round it all out, it touches on all the taste buds.
2. Don't Shy Away From Sweetness
Indulging on trail mix? Extremely common when it comes to store-brand labels. Yet, it's okay to splurge on the sweet stuff when you're exhibiting portion control and using diet-friendly ingredients, like pure dark chocolate chips and whole wheat cereals, says Shaw.
Try her slimmed-down Puppy Chow mix (often a diet doozy) for a sweet treat mid-day at the office, Elvis-style. (Fair warning: Your co-workers might steal a few handfuls). Loaded with bananas, chocolate, powdered cocoa peanut butter, pretzels, and Chex mix, it won't disappoint.
And, it only takes 18 minutes to whip up. Eat within a week for ultimate freshness.
3. Make A BIG Batch
It's super easy to make a big batch of trail mix and at home and store in little plastic baggies for snacks or add-ons to meals, like a Greek yogurt, oatmeal topper, or post-workout smoothie.
For food blogger, Amber Forbes at Slim Pickin's Kitchen, it's normal to prepare a mix that serves 10-12 people (or one hungry person, spread out throughout the week). A tip: The smell will engulf your kitchen, so immediately separate into plastic bags once cool. It'll prevent you from mindlessly munching.
Here, Amber offers a delicious pumpkin maple trail mix recipe. Her medley of dried fruits, like apricots, cherries, and raisins, along with sunflower and pumpkin seeds, supply tons of fiber, to keep your cravings low and digestive system on track.
Another dried fruit to combine could be apple chips, a homemade version that uses a low glycemic index sweetener).
4. Portion Carefully
A potential problem with trail mix? It's so damn good, you'll want to keep eating it. To save yourself the excess calories and fats, portioning wisely, ahead of time, can help. So, once you've given yourself a serving, put that batch away (out of sight, out of mind is real, friends).
"Making your own trail mix is so easy and it's usually healthier than the store-bought stuff because you can control how much oil, salt and sugar is added into the mix. Just remember that while trail mix is loaded with healthy ingredients like nuts and fruit, it's nutrient-dense," says Brittany Mullins, food blogger at Eating Bird Food.
Mullins recommends a handful (about 1/4 cup) for a satisfying snack that's weight friendly. Shaw adds that 1/2 cup could be better for mixes that feature larger items, like puffed cereals or popcorn.
5. Think: Unsweetened & Raw
Sounds gross, but it's actually just as satisfying (especially when you add a hint of "fun stuff," like dark chocolate chunks), says Davida, food blogger and founder of The Healthy Maven.
When choosing ingredients, it's best to go for raw nuts and seeds, as well as unsweetened dried fruits that don't contain sulfites, she says. For a bit of salt, you can add a dash of sea salt, or go for a spice, like cinnamon or nutmeg, instead.
Here, she offers a great guide to making a perfect trail mix blend, which is easily customizable and leaves room for experimentation.
Her go-to baggie? It includes a variety of nuts, seeds, and fruits, like pecans, cashews, and cherries. And, of course, chopped dark chocolate, at 82% for greater antioxidants, she adds.
So, the next time someone tells you trail mix is "junk," you know just how to prove them wrong.