As someone who has found forgotten, squished bananas and pulverized muffins in her backpack and purse at the end of a trip, I (now) know that it is essential to combine good intentions with practicality when it comes to packing healthy food.
Take it from me: non-perishable options are the way to go. They’ll satisfy and power you along, for all of the following, and more:
*Bag-lunching (for yourself or others)
*Sitting someplace for long periods of time, anywhere, without access to food (jury duty, hospitals, you name it)
*Trying to lose weight and/or eat more healthfully at work or play
*Getting some high energy eats for a hike/bike ride/picnic
*Re-fueling pre- or post-workout
*Healthy snacking in general.
(I also found non-perishables especially useful when I was living solo since my eating plans changed so often).
I had been meaning to write about this topic anyway; these past few days gave me plenty of time to brainstorm! I make lists for everything; the process always seems to spark additional ideas. I hope this starter list does the same for you.
This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but I do hope it provides a starting point. I have lots of options for all types of eaters (i.e., vegan, raw food, omnivores, carnivores, celiac, nut-allergic, etc.) If you have other suggestions or favorites, please post them in the comments section!
It’s time to branch out beyond raisins. Take a look at the list below—options abound! I got particularly addicted to dried fruit when I was single because it keeps so well (it’s hard to keep up with fresh produce in a household of one).
You can really save A LOT by buying dried fruit from the bulk food section or at superstores (e.g., Costco, Sam’s). Trader Joes and Wegmans (regional options) are great, too, as is (and I know this will sound bizarre) Wal-Greens. I found this out by accident when I was looking for something else. They have their own brand of tart dried cherries and dried blueberries which are very good and much less than the supermarket (which sometimes does not have either).
Sultanas (golden raisins)
Dried Pineapple (get the unsweetened kind; it is already really sweet)
Dried Mangoes (Unbelievably good; they sell big bags of them Costco.)
Dried Papaya (chunks or spears)
Dried Fruit Bits
Dried Tropical Fruit Bits
Peanuts (I like the old-fashioned kind in the shells)
Pistachios (I like the shelled ones—they slow down my chomping)
Soy Nuts (really good, and a lot less expensive than other nuts)
NUT, SEED & SOY BUTTERS
My sister is allergic to peanuts, so I'm thrilled that there are some (very tasty!) non-peanut options available.
Soy Nut Butter (e.g., Eatgood Organic Soybutter and I.M. Healthy Soy Nut Butter; it’s really good. Both are available from amazon.com)
Cheaper than nuts, but still high in flavor and protein, seeds are great snacking plain or mixed into your own trail mixes.
Give the hemp seeds a try if you have the opportunity; don't worry, they won’t make you high. But they will give you LOTS of nutrition, like protein, essential fatty acids and fiber, are rich in antioxidants, such as vitamin E, and contain minerals, including magnesium, iron and zinc. I have not been able to find them in stores (except home in California…hmmm, no comment) but you can order them by mail. Here are some links: Grass Roots Natural Goods, amazon.com (search under hemp seeds; you can get hemp seeds, hemp seed energy bars, and more)
Pepitas (green pumpkin seeds)
Regular Pumpkin Seeds (white)
Sunflower seeds (shelled or unshelled)
It is worth trying a bunch to discover which ones you like—some taste just like sawdust (I’ve eaten more than my fair share). But winners exist. Here are some of my favorites:
Lara Bars—I am crazy about their apple and cherry bars. They are raw food bars, just dried fruit, nuts and spices. If you don’t like most other energy bars, give these a try.
Gnu Foods Flavor & Fiber Cinnamon Raisin--In a word, awesome; tastes like a perfect oatmeal raisin cookie.
I am talking specifically about Laughing Cow Cheese here.
They have several options, all of which you can find in just about any supermarket. I have loved Laughing Cow cheese since I was a child and my mom would put the spreads and mini baby bel hard cheeses in our lunch boxes.
They have the foil-wrapped Cheese Wedges (which can be spread) and the Mini Baby Bels, which are hard cheeses preserved in wax (they come in a cute little net bag). Both the wedges and Baby Bels are available in an assortment of flavors. Now they also offer cheese bites (cube size) and cheese and baguettes (a pack of spread-able Swiss cheese and several seasoned breadsticks).
It seems like a new variety of cracker pops up with each visit to the grocery store. But it’s a good thing, because many of the new offerings offer multi-grains, less sodium and less fat. Check the labels and then let your palate be our guide. Here are some of my favorites:
Blue Diamond Nut Thins. These are very addictive—my friend Kirsten turned me on to these. They have no flour and are available in many flavors, including almond, hazelnut, and pecan.
Water Crackers (e.g., Carr’s brand; love them with cheese)
Reduced Fat Triscuits
Reduced Fat Wheat Thins
Reduced Fat Cheese Nips/ Cheez-Its (I can’t help it—they are just so yummy!)
Rice Cakes (I know, not really a cracker, but close. I like them with cheese or peanut butter
Asian Rice Crackers--I could eat my weight in these (called sembei in Japanese). You can find bags of these cracker mixes at Trader Joes, supermarkets and Asian grocery stores. If you are not familiar with what I'm talking about, check out the following link: Sembei.
CEREAL/GRANOLALots of options here for munching on the go at any time of day. The big names have a lot of healthy options, but I like to head over to the natural/health food section of the supermarket for the cereals; they tend to be much lower in sugar. Here are some of my favorites:
Bear Naked Granola (yum, Yum, YUM!)
Quaker Oatmeal Squares
Nature's Path Flax Plus (I like pretty much all of the Nature's Path Cereals)
Instant Oatmeal Packets or Cups
Like my cereal advice, you can find some healthier cookie options over in the natural/health food section of the store. They tend to be a little pricey, though, so here are my favorites from the regular cookie aisle:
GRANOLA BARS & TRAIL MIX
You can make your own, but some good ready-made options exist; just read the packaging first.
Cascadian Farms Organic Chewy Granola Bars (I especially like the Multi-Grain)
Nature Valley Original Crunchy Granola Bars
Nature Valley Sweet & Salty Nut Almond Bars (these are new)
Planter’s Trail Mix (they have many options, and they are available at most grocery stores with the nuts. I especially like Spicy Nut Cajun and Golden Nut Crunch.)
Pretzels (all shapes and varieties)
Air-popped Popcorn (or lighter microwave popcorn)
Terra Vegetable Chips (Love them!)
Soy Chips (e.g., Genisoy Soy Crisps--they have both sweet and salty flavors; I really like them.) Apple Chips (e.g., Seneca brand)
SOUP IN A CUP
Like my cheese category, I really only have one brand here that I like: Fantastic Foods.
Things like oodles of noodles and cup o’ soup just don’t taste that great to me (and they have a ton of sodium), but in a pinch (and every once in a while) they are ok. But the Fantastic Food options are terrific. Back in my ultra-frugal days, I would pack one with me on airplane trips and get some boiling water at the airport McDonalds to add to the cup.
Plus they use only organic products and have lots of tasty options from which to choose. Just take a look at their page of soup cup products. I particularly like their Baja Black Bean Chipotle Chili, Green Onion Miso with Tofu, and Spicy Thai Soup.
READY-TO-GO INTERNATIONAL MEALS
If you like spice, you have got to try the ready-to-go rice & noodle meals from Taste of Thai and their sister companies Taste of India and Taste of China; they are flavorful, low in fat and calories, and a reasonable amount of sodium for a packaged meal.
They come in a box from the supermarket (it looks like an Asian takeout box); all you have to do is microwave and eat. You can find them in the Asian or International food section of the supermarket, or order it in bulk. It pays off very quickly! I especially like the Coconut Ginger Noodles, the Masala Rice & Lentils, and Szechuan Noodles.
Here’s the link: Taste of Thai/India/China
VACUUM-PACKED FISH & CHICKEN
Cans work, too, but I don't typically travel with a can opener in my purse and the pull top cans can be really messy.
Several brands, such as Chicken of the Sea and Bumblebee make the following foil-pouch options, a great way to add protein to snacks or salads:
Chicken (chunk and breast fillets)
Non-perishable vegetable options are tougher to come by, but here are two I like:
I like snacking on wasabi peas because I cannot eat too many at one time! In addition, they pack 6 grams of protein per 1 ounce serving.
Crispy and crunchy, these are made by a company called Just Tomatoes. They are really tasty! I’ve found them in the co-ops, health food stores, and the health/natural foods sections of grocery stores. They can also be mail-ordered.
SHELF-STABLE COW, SOY, RICE & ALMOND MILK BOXES
These come in very handy for traveling or for keeping in your desk or bag for sipping or pouring over cereal. They all come in multiple flavors, such as plain, vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry.
Organic Valley—Comes in plain, and chocolate, strawberry and vanilla, too
Parmalat—I see this often in the supermarket, next to the evaporated and sweetened condensed milk
Soy, Rice & Almond Milk:
SHELF-STABLE PUDDING, FRUIT & APPLESAUCE CUPS
Spooning up a little cup of something sweet can work wonders. Stock some in the desk drawer for 4 o’clock hunger pangs.
Jell-O Lowfat or Nonfat Pudding Cups
Organic Applesuce --I know I sound like a broken record, but look in the health/natural food section for the organic options. Plain applesauce is always good, but some of the organic brands come in yummy combinations like apple-apricot, apple-boysenberry and strawberry apple. They are REALLY good! Several brands exist, but the only one I can remember off-hand is Eden Foods.
Yes, fresh fruit is best, but you can get some decent offerings here too. I have a thing for canned mandarin oranges; they make them in the individual cups now.
A Few Extras...
INSTANT HOT BEVERAGES
Keeping a small supply of hot drink mixes and tea can be a godsend; all you need is the boiling water (available from any gas station or fast food joint). On the road, for example, I can enjoy a cup of French tea instead of swilling gas station coffee. Here's what I keep at the ready:
Instant Espresso--Find it where the coffee is shelved; it's with the instant coffee.
Instant Cappuccino (e.g., Cafe D'Vita)
Variety of Teas (herbal, black, white, green)
Instant Apple Cider (e.g., Alpine)
HARD CANDIES & GOOD CHOCOLATE
I try to plan for my sweet tooth by keeping a few goodies in my bag, desk, and when I travel. It really works. A single peppermint can taste like heaven when you’re crammed into an airplane seat. My favorites are as follows:
Good Chocolate (preferably small, individually wrapped pieces)