I frequently hear from my patients that healthy and nutritious eating is expensive, not only in cost, but also in time. I can’t deny that yes, it takes more time to visit the grocery store or seek out a piece of fresh fruit than it would to hit up a vending machine for a candy bar or bag of chips. But unfortunately, that assumption and attitude about what a chore nutritious eating is can keep some from making a few cheap (both in cost and time) changes to their diet. As a registered dietitian, I am committed to showing my patients how easy nutritious eating can be with a little thought and planning.
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” – Hippocrates
Incorporating more nutritious snacks into your diet is a really simple way to start eating healthier. Rather than indulging in the break room treats or digging into your co-worker’s candy bowl, try these 10 nutritious and portable snacks that can be found for under $1 per serving. Instead of viewing snacking as a poor decision, include these foods into your day to increase your energy, help you eat less at meals and keep you away from the vending machine!
1. Whole fruit: Whole fruit is a great snack because it is readily available at gas stations, fast food restaurants and in work cafeterias for typically $0.70 to $0.80 per piece. Grabbing a banana, an apple or a pear will provide a surge of vitamins and minerals into your afternoon 3 p.m. slump. Fruit, due to its high water and fiber content, will help increase satisfaction and fullness and curb sweets cravings due to the natural sugar content.
2. Nuts & seeds: Almonds, cashews, walnuts or pumpkin seeds make fantastic additions to a purse or work briefcase and can be carried around for days without spoiling or becoming stale. Nuts and seeds are jam packed with heart healthy fats, fiber and protein — all of which will keep you full with a relatively small portion. If you struggle with boredom eating, try munching on sunflower seeds in the shell or pistachios to provide a built-in distraction that will slow down your eating. For the cheapest options, look for bulk nuts, which average approximately $0.50 per one ounce (200 calorie) portion.
3. Popcorn: My patients love to hear my support of popcorn as a snack; however, I always emphasize a non-butter loaded variety (which they may or may not choose to hear). Popcorn is a whole grain, rich in fiber, and can be eaten in larger volumes (for similar calorie content) than other snack foods such as chips and pretzels. Both microwave snack size bags and pre-popped low fat popcorn, found in the chip aisle, are convenient to keep in the pantry and average between $0.40 to $0.70 per serving.
4. Low fat Greek yogurt or cottage cheese: While dairy foods need to be refrigerated, both Greek yogurt and cottage cheese are packed with protein, calcium and vitamin D. To stay heart healthy, choose low fat or fat free varieties and top with a no sugar added or 100 percent juice shelf-stable fruit cup for a refreshing, yet light snack! Prices range from $0.50 to $1.00, whether you choose bulk or individual containers.
5. Raw vegetables: While slightly harder to find at times, raw vegetables are a great snack for mindless eaters and those who covet dips. Pick your poison: baby carrots, celery sticks, mini bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, or raw pieces of broccoli and cauliflower. They are all equally rich in fiber, potassium and many vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C and beta-carotene. While raw vegetables can be purchased and cut up for pennies on the dollar, for those who are in a time or enthusiasm crunch, opt for a pre-cut vegetable tray. You’ll get 6–7 sandwich size bags of raw vegetables for approximately $1.00 per bag.
6. Hard boiled eggs: While they do require a refrigerator or cold pack, hard boiled eggs are extremely portable and keep fresh when left in the shell after cooking for several days in the refrigerator. Eggs are rich in vitamin B12 and high quality protein, and only ring in at 70 calories for a large egg. Not only cheap in calories, eggs are extremely cost effective, with each egg costing an average of $0.25 each. Pair the egg with a piece of fruit for a dynamite nutrient packed snack.
7. String cheese: I still find it funny when patients are shocked I recommend string cheese. Like eggs, mozzarella cheese — the cheese most often sold as “string cheese” is low in saturated fat, yet rich in protein. Mozzarella is naturally lower in sodium than most cheeses as well, making string cheese a portable and tasty snack. Whether you buy string cheese individually in a gas station, or in a large pack in the grocery store – they’ll only set you back approximately $0.25 to $0.89 per stick.
8. Dry cereal: Walking down the cereal aisle can be quite daunting, with so many options and so many claims made on boxes. Whole grain dry cereals make an excellent snack on their own, or can be combined with a pint of milk in a cup for a quick crunchy bite. When choosing dry cereal, look for a whole grain variety where the first ingredient listed contains the word, “whole”. Dry cereals containing fruit and nuts will provide an extra punch of flavor, without as much added sugar as other varieties. Most boxes of cereal will provide at minimum 10 snack sized servings, making this commonly overlooked option approximately $0.30-$0.40 per serving.
9. Dried fruit: Whether traveling or finding yourself at the end of the week without a recent grocery trip, dried fruit is a perfect snack solution. Dried fruit is often overlooked; however, it remains shelf-stable for months and is a convenient way to continue including fruit in your diet when fresh fruit isn’t available. Look for dried fruit that doesn’t contain sugar, and keep in mind the smaller portion size, due to the concentration of calories and sugar once water is removed from the plant. The smaller portion size of dried fruit make this a very affordable option, whether you buy a package of individual raisin boxes, or a large bag of dried apples and divvy yourself.
10. Peanut butter: Nut butters, whether it be peanut, almond or sunflower (among many types) butter are both delicious and extremely portable. Nut butters provide the same fiber and heart healthy fats as whole nuts, yet can be slathered on an apple or peanut butter — making fruit that much more delicious. Whether you choose to portion your own 1-2 Tablespoons (about the size of a golfball at most) or opt for an individual packaged portion, nut butters range from $0.25 to $0.99.
With all these options (and the endless combinations of them together), nutritious snacking should be much simpler and easier, both on your wallet and on your time. Keep in mind that many of these options are available at gas stations, airport kiosks or in the regular grocery store — they may just take some imagination and thinking outside of the box. Try portioning out several snack bags at once to maximize both time and cost when buying in bulk. You’ll be able to just grab and go with a snack bag in the mornings while you are racing out the door.