Snacks that won’t slow you down
Healthy alternatives for when you want a quick bite to eat but don’t want to fall into the sugar, salt and animal 'fat trap'
Spinach and courgette muffins. Photograph: Alan Betson
New improved granola bars. Photograph: Alan Betson
Occasionally I go on very strict regimes, mainly because – since getting and recovering from breast cancer last year – I have found myself a lot more interested in the benefits of nutrition on our health. That is not to say that I think a shot of wheatgrass will help cure cancer. It won’t. But I do think Western medicine can be supported by better diets and real focus on the new research that is coming out every year.
Like most people, I am often conflicted about what I eat and my love of really gourmet dishes versus the very humble ones – like this week’s recipes – means I try to find some balance between “good” and “bad” food, as much as possible.
It is rare that you will find a muffin or granola bar in a shop that is “good” for you. These are products that are perceived as healthy, but often just camouflage a lot of junk. So, how to satisfy that craving for snack-food and keep it relatively healthy – and not overload too much on sugar, salt and fat – the main evils in many common snack foods?
Here is an incredibly abstemious version of my earlier recipes for granola bars. Cereal bars are a popular addition to the lunch box or as a quick bite for kids just in from summer fun, but many commercial varieties are heavy on refined sugar.
This particular version is made mostly with oats, which release their energy slowly, balancing the naturally occurring sugar in the dates and bananas. Throw in a happy mix of nutrient-dense nuts and seeds – I used chia, linseed, pumpkin and sunflower – and a few pinches of cinnamon (a natural way to keep blood sugar levels on an even keel), and the result is a filling snack that will satisfy your sweet tooth. There is no added sugar, not even agave, honey or maple syrup. Just naturally occurring fruit sugar. I kept them wrapped in the freezer, already pre-cut, which makes them the ultimate grab and go snack.
And the second recipe? Well, I know the idea of a savoury muffin might stretch the imagination, but I felt I had to at least try. The result, a vegan muffin made with grated vegetables, is surprisingly good, and thanks to the coconut flour, surprisingly filling too. I used almond milk as a non-dairy source, but you could certainly use dairy if you prefer. These are delicious warm, and are best served with a sweet ’n’ sour condiment like a tomato relish or a chutney, or my favourite – slathered in butter.
But just as I was feeling all delighted with myself, my co-chef Gillian Fallon spurred me to experiment further by telling me how she’d cut the (now cold) muffins in half, and fried them in a non-stick pan, to golden perfection. They looked so tempting I decided to up the ante and do a healthier, non-fried version by shaping the mixture into small patties rather like veggie burgers, and baking them in the oven till golden, with just a touch of olive oil. Yum. They really are a flexible friend. For the record, both the muffins and the granola bars got the thumbs-up from the teenager. Enough said.