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I've never been great at meal prep. Sure, I know it would help me eat healthier *and* save me money (looking at you, $13 Sweetgreen salad!). Lunch aside, simply not having anything healthy at the ready to eat during the day means I often fall into a hangry midmorning or midafternoon slump. (And in all honesty, I was starting to make a habit out of the endless supply of M&Ms in the office kitchen, a wonderful yet dangerous perk of my new office building.)
The answer, I realized, was snack prep. It involves significantly less effort than full-blown meal prep, I thought, (minimal chopping or actual cooking) so I could totally commit to prepping a different snack for each day of the week. I gave it a try and found that it was the perfect solution to my frequent drops in energy—and, overall, I was way more productive. Who knew? (Related: 3 Healthy Snack Recipes from Jen Widerstrom's Cookbook)
Here's how I fared prepping healthy (and actually tasty) snacks for one whole week.
Day 1: Frozen Greek Yogurt-Dipped Blueberries
A few years ago, I saw a creative blueberry hack that stuck with me: Dunk the berries pierced with a toothpick into a container of nonfat Greek yogurt, plop them on a baking sheet, and freeze for an hour. Easy enough. While the end result wasn't exactly Insta-worthy, they tasted great, and it was a refreshing midmorning snack to have on a Monday in the middle of a heat wave. (My coworkers were definitely impressed.) Bonus: The antioxidants in blueberries have been shown to help fight cancer, slow cognitive decline, and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. I knew I was doing something good for myself, even if I snoozed through my workout that morning.
Day 2: Peanut Butter Chocolate Protein Bar
I tend to eat "lunch" pretty late (like when some people are heading home for the day), but on this day, I ate at the normal human hour of 12 noon. That meant by the time 3 p.m. rolled around, I was feeling hungry again. Since I had a tough boot-camp class booked for that evening, a protein bar sounded like the perfect pre-workout snack to make sure I was fueled and ready to go. The peanut butter chocolate Protein One bar has 10 grams of protein and satisfied my sweet tooth despite only having 1 gram of sugar, so I wasn't tempted to hit the M&M dispenser—plus the entire bar was only 90 calories. I've since started carrying them around in my bag so I always have a high-protein, low-sugar option when I'm traveling.
Day 3: Banana Chips and Honey Peanut Butter
For the next day of my snacking journey, I decided to slice up an apple, spoon out some Justin's almond butter, and call it a day. But then, my quest for delicious and easy snacks in the grocery store brought my attention to Justin’s Honey Peanut Butter and Banana snack packs. The organic banana chips were far easier to eat on the go than a fresh banana and a jar of peanut butter (not exactly subway-friendly) and they have 5 grams of protein. This turned out to be a satisfying late-morning snack that held me over until it was time for lunch.
Day 4: Homemade Kale Chips
Okay, so this one *did* involve a bit of chopping and using my oven, but it was so simple that I made an exception. All I did to prep this one was remove the stems from a bunch of kale leaves, throw the leaves on a baking sheet with a drizzle of olive oil and a little salt, and cook them for 10 minutes. The crunchy, salty combination was the perfect snack and a healthier replacement for greasy potato chips, which I've been known to polish off in record speed. Bonus: My prepping saved me a ton of money, since a bag of kale chips on-the-go can easily run $6. (Here's a slightly more adventurous version of the basic recipe I used, if you're curious.)
Day 5: White Bean Dip and Pita Chips
Instead of my usual hummus, I decided to try out something different: a white bean dip with spinach and roasted garlic. I "prepped" this and pita chips in a snack-size Tupperware with two compartments and had an easy, savory snack that was both delicious and filling (it contains 2 grams of protein per serving). Since portion control can be one of my healthy eating downfalls, I was happy that I didn't have the entire tub in front of me—I could have easily polished it off.
Day 6: DIY Chocolate Popcorn Trail Mix
With a little more time on my hands over the weekend, I decided to make my own trail mix after re-reading this Shape story written by a dietitian singing the snack's praises. While there are countless DIY variations, I decided to go with a version containing popcorn, which is probably my all-time favorite snack (proof: I've actually gone to a movie theater to bring some home to eat on my couch). Popcorn is also a surprisingly high-fiber, low-calorie, and antioxidant-rich snack that's totally RD-approved (when it's not doused in butter, of course). For my own trail mix, I loosely followed this recipe. But to make things a little easier, as my base I used a pre-popped bag of popcorn with no artificial ingredients and just about 40 calories per cup. Then I added dark chocolate chips, shredded coconut, and raw almonds. As you can probably imagine, it was the perfect blend of salty and sweet for my Saturday evening Netflix binge.
Day 7: Yogurt with Dried Figs and Walnuts
Although my blueberry experiment was fun, I admittedly got lazy by the final day. So I decided to grab a packaged snack to throw in my bag to eliminate the prep and messy container and hold me over until brunch. I went with an Icelandic honey yogurt with dried figs and walnuts—the latter of which is the number-one food to boost your mood, so it was the perfect snack to battle against the Sunday Scares. Despite being low in sugar, the yogurt seriously delivered on flavor and felt like a well-balanced treat.
My Snack-Prep Takeaway
I'm not sure if it was the walnuts or seven days of actually taking time to feed myself some nutritious snacks instead of M&Ms, but I felt my mood seriously improve. The key for me? Intentional snacking—rather than mindlessly munching on whatever I could get my hands on in the office—kept my portions in control and gave me something to look forward to each day. While I don't think I'll ever be a meal-prepper, it turns out snack prep is totally up my alley.
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