• Theresa Gentile

Updated: 2 days ago

Want a guilt-free snack that won’t ruin your diet? You’ll love this all-natural, protein-energy ball recipe made with chickpeas, peanut butter, and oats.





Energy balls have become my new go-to snack. They are healthy, versatile and tasty. They’re also quick to make (which may be my #2 reason for making them…#1 being that the healthy part.).


I started making them as a healthy snack for my kids in school. Ideally, I’d love for my kids to be content with the fruit, carrot sticks, and edamame I give them, but, let’s face it, most times they’re not. (In fact, it only took one month into pre-K to hear, “But M’s mom gives her Goldfish and Oreos. I want those tomorrow!”

Four years of healthy eating thrown out the window!)


Despite all that, my kids love the energy balls – especially the ones made with peanut butter. My husband also loves them, so I wind up making several batches at a time. Lately, these protein balls have been great for the following, especially since they are so easy to transport:


1. School lunch boxes

2. Long car trips

3. Post sports practice

4. The beach/park

5. Post gym workout

6. Anytime you need a healthy, protein-rich little pick me up


They’re perfect for kids who need healthy snacks during the day to keep up their higher energy demands and for adults who need a portion-controlled snack to fuel their metabolism and ward off sluggishness.


The first protein energy balls I made had a base of peanut butter, oats and honey. That’s it! Clean and natural. (And you can substitute any nut/seed butter (like almond/soy/sunflower butter) for the peanut butter.) I mixed it by hand, but I found it a little annoying as the sticky batter always sticks to my hands. So, I started adding it to my mini food processor instead. Much better! Although my kids like them better when I mix them by hand. 😒


Then, I read how the energy ball base could be chickpeas! Whaaat? Fiber, protein and vitamins in my energy ball snack?? A dietitian’s dream…


Whipping these energy balls up in the food processor speeds things up a lot, but increases your dishes. Rubbing the skins off the chickpeas took the most time, but it’s really not so bad. Doing this allows for a smoother consistency, but it’s not necessary.


(Update: I no longer rub off the skins and I don't notice the difference at all.)


And, usually, I cut the sugar (in every recipe), but these definitely needed the sweetness, so I compensated with adding some chocolate chips.


There are so many varieties of energy balls, you’ll never run out of snack ideas! You can also make them with a base of chopped dates. If you like these quick, healthy energy balls, try these:


Date, Cashew, Orange No Bake Energy Balls or

Strawberry Pretzel Energy Balls


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How to make these no-bake chickpea energy balls:


Drain and rinse chickpeas. Rub off skins (optional). Add to food processor along with all ingredients except for chocolate chips. Pulse until blended. (Add a little water if the mixture is too dry.) Avoid overmixing; mix just until batter is sticky and stays together when you press it together with your fingers. Scoop batter into tablespoon-sized balls.









No-Bake Energy Balls with Chickpeas


Ingredients:

1 15 oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1 cup oats (can be 1 minute or 5 minute oats)

1/2 cup All-natural smooth peanut butter

1/3 cup honey

¼ tsp cinnamon

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 cup mini chocolate chips


Directions:

For a smoother consistency, rub skins off chickpeas.

Add all ingredients to a food processor except chocolate chips.

Blend until combined. Add a little water if it's too thick.

Remove mixture to a bowl, mix in chocolate chips. Refrigerate until firms slightly.

Roll into tablespoon-sized balls.

Try not to eat them all at once!


Nutrition Facts: Serving size: 1 ball. Makes about 15 balls.

Calories: 104 Carbohydrates: 12.7 grams Fiber: 3.4 g Fat: 5g Protein: 3.3g Sugar: 6.5 g


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Remote learning has been a test of many things, especially parents’ patience. It might seem easy to give in and let your kids graze on snacks all day, but here’s what can happen if you close the kitchen.




Parenting and snacking go hand-in-hand. It starts with Cheerios or Puffs in a little plastic, spill-proof container and moves on to adolescents raiding the pantry and fridge. Snacking is essential to children, especially young children, who need lots of nutrients to meet the needs of their growing bodies. But I have found that the pandemic has parents at their wits-end, taking on the struggle of working from home, teaching their children simultaneously, and providing a constant flow of snacks to satisfy the frustrated, or bored, child.


Is it OK for kids to snack?


Snacking is an essential way to provide nutrients to kids, especially toddlers and young children whose stomachs can only hold a small amount of food at a time. Unfortunately, the choice of snack is usually the problem. Snacking should really be an opportunity to provide nutritious foods that fill in the nutrient gaps.


In a meta-analysis of 23 observational studies, researchers found that higher calorie meals and snacks led to a higher risk of obesity in kids.


We’re feeding our kids Cheez Its and “natural” gummy fruit snacks, thinking it’s going to give our kids the energy they need. Instead, we’re increasing their tolerance and desire for these salty and sugary snacks and teaching them that these foods are appropriate for everyday - sometimes, all-day consumption.

Childhood is a time to set life-long habits and taste preferences. Kids can’t discern health consequences from foods as adults can; it is our job to do that for them. High fat, sugary snacks do not provide the nutrients required for kids to perform in physical activity. These highly palatable foods are a norm nowadays and can become addictive, leading to a pattern of obesity.


And, often, snacks are given on demand, as handouts, while running in the park, while waiting in line, on every car trip….and now, during remote learning at home.


For my family, it’s gotten to the point where a walk outside automatically triggers the question, “Did you bring any snacks, mom??”


As does the start of the remote school day...we may have finished breakfast 15 minutes beforehand, but the second their Zoom meeting connects, they’re already asking for snacks.


Instead, snacking can be a way to emulate how to appreciate food and remain mindful in eating.


What should you do when your kids beg for snacks all day?


Snacking is important but shouldn’t be doled out as dictated by your kids- it should be strategic. Snacks can offer nutrients that your child didn’t eat in the previous meal or that you suspect they may not eat in the next.


Constant snacking, or grazing, keeps kids just a little too full for meals.


To expect kids to sit for a meal and eat, they need to be a little hungry.


Strategic, planned snacks are the answer.

Here’s how to plan your kids’ snacks:


-Plan 2-3 snacks per day for toddlers, 1-2 for older children and adolescents.

-This will vary based on one’s activity and needs, and energy demands.


-Set a time between meals to offer nutritious snacks and only at that time

-Ideally, this will be spaced in between the main meals with allowance of enough time for everyone to develop a little hunger for the next meal.


-Sit down for snacks. Set snacks out at the table as often as you can. Even if you’re at the park, sit down on a bench.

-This teaches everyone that food should be enjoyed mindfully. (Besides the fact that eating while running around is a choking hazard. And, I don’t know about you, but I’m really tired of following my kids around with a broom to catch crumbs all over the house.)


What if my child cries that she’s hungry at other times?


If you’re providing nutritious, sustaining foods and snacks, you can start shedding that guilt at refusing extra snack handouts because you know (and she’ll know) that another opportunity to eat will be right around the corner. The more you set up consistent patterns of eating, the more your child can trust that if he decides not to eat now, they’ll be another chance soon. But not until then.


It also teaches your child to trust himself - he can gauge how much to eat depending on what his body feels like right now, how much he likes the food, and when the next time to eat will be. And isn’t that what we want for our children...to grow up and trust that they know their body best and not to fall victim to outside pressures?


What kind of snacks should I provide?


Unfortunately, kids’ snacks have become ubiquitous with sugary desserts or salty, crunchy, high fat, shelf-stable items.


The kinds of meals and snacks that will sustain kids (and adults, for that matter) are those with protein, fiber, and healthy fats. As Ellyn Satter, MS, RD, LCSW, BCD says, snacks are the “ace in the parents’ hole.” It’s a time to squeeze in those nutrients that they may have missed in a previous meal.


Filling, nutritious snack ideas for kids:


Here are some snack ideas for school-age kids for school, for home, or on the go. Adapt the textures and sizes according to your child’s development.


Apple slices with nut butter


Whole-grain pretzels with a glass of milk


Energy Balls like these
















Homemade ice pops like these cocoa chickpea pops















Homemade popcorn sprinkled with Nutritional Yeast


Cheese Sticks


Pumpkin Oatmeal cookies, homemade














Hummus and veggies


Chocolate hummus and whole-grain crackers


Homemade whole wheat pita chips and salsa


Whole wheat toast and peanut butter


Apple slices in mascarpone dip














Plain Greek yogurt with fruit and/or granola


Nuts


Trail mix with nuts and dried fruit


Turkey and cheese roll-ups


Edamame and whole-grain pretzels


Oatmeal



Should I give my kids a bedtime snack?


Ellyn Satter, MS, RD, LCSW, BCD suggests that bedtime snacks should be “filling, not thrilling.” This means the bedtime snack should not be a treat offered as a reward for eating dinner. The bedtime snack should be similar to other snacks throughout the day; full of fiber and protein, nutritious and hearty; not something for which the kids will intentionally skip dinner because it’s so tempting.


So the bedtime snack, again, offers the opportunity to nourish kids with healthy nutrients that they may not have otherwise consumed in their meals. Some of our favorites are:


Homemade pumpkin oatmeal cookies

Chocolate hummus with whole-grain crackers

Plain Greek yogurt with fruit/granola

Homemade peaches and cream ice pops

Healthy cocoa chickpea ice pops


So I said, “No” to Snacking and Here’s What Happened


“Can I have a snack?”

“Sure you can...after lunch, which will be in half an hour!” (Not only did I delay the snack until the appropriate time, I turned my negative answer into a positive one.)


It might be a battle at first...but it’s worth it. After just a few times of saying no, my kids accepted it. I feel confident that I’m planning healthy meals and snacks and that my kids are eating the right amount for their growing bodies and learning to trust their own hunger and fullness signals.


Of course, there are times when I want to give in and I don’t. And there are times when I do give in. But I’m consistent the majority of the time and my family knows what to expect.


Do you close the kitchen in between meals? I challenge you to try. Extra bonus if you tackle snacks on the playground or soccer field. 😉


Theresa 🥑



References:

Kerr, J.A., Jansen, P.W., Mensah, F.K. et al. Child and adult snack food intake in response to manipulated pre-packaged snack item quantity/variety and snack box size: a population-based randomized trial. Int J Obes 43, 1891–1902 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41366-019-0407-z


Nguyen V, Cooper L, Lowndes J, Melanson K, Angelopoulos TJ, Rippe JM, Reimers K.Popcorn is more satiating than potato chips in normal-weight adults. Nutr J 2012;11:71.


Wansink B, Kim J.Bad popcorn in big buckets: portion size can influence intake as much as taste. J Nutr Educ Behav 2005;37:242–5.


Rhee KE, Boutelle K, Jelalian E, Barnes R, Dickstein S, Wing R.Firm maternal parenting associated with decreased risk of excessive snacking in overweight children. Eat Weight Disord 2015;20:195–203.


Wouters EJ, Larsen JK, Kremers SP, Dagnelie PC, Geenen R.Peer influence on snacking behavior in adolescence. Appetite 2010;55:11–7.


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  • Theresa Gentile

A delicious alternative to lobster on a busy weeknight.



Crab rolls have become a staple on my monthly dinner rotation. They’re super easy to prepare, a meatless option, and, more importantly, everyone likes them.


Of course, lobster is my first choice, but crab is more reasonably priced. But a quick note on imitation vs. real crab meat. I remember the day I was sitting with my dietitian colleagues in our hospital cafeteria eating the imitation crab meat, thinking we were getting a heart-healthy protein source on our salad and gawking at the notion that imitation crab meat was high in carbs and sugar. “High in sugar?! But this is a protein and it’s not sweet!” The joke was on us!


Imitation crab meat isn’t just various fish mushed together into a mold (surimi, it’s called, which is actually usually made from pollock). Surimi only comprises about 30-50% of imitation crabs’ weight. The remainder is be made of water, starch, egg proteins, sugar, sorbitol, unhealthy vegetable oils and sodium or MSG. Oh my….


So, although the calorie content of imitation crab meat is similar to real crab meat (about 80 calories for 3 ounces), imitation crab is much lower in protein, higher in carbohydrates, sugar, and salt and lower in omega-3 fatty acids and minerals.

So, it’s certainly not horrible to have a crab roll with imitation crab meat occasionally, but if this recipe makes it into your regular rotation, as it has mine, you may want to splurge for real crab meat. You can purchase real crab pre-shelled in the refrigerated section of the supermarket, frozen, or even canned.


These rolls would also be perfect for a barbecue, picnic, or easy summer lunch. I add a lot of lemon zest and herbs for extra flavor.


Easy Crab Rolls

Serves: 4


Ingredients:

1 Tablespoon lemon juice + 1 teaspoon lemon zest

½ - 1 teaspoon hot sauce (optional)

12 ounces lump crab meat

1 Tablespoon chopped chives

1 Tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon or chervil (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

4-8 lettuce leaves

4 brioche hot dog buns toasted

1 ½ Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted for rolls, optional


Instructions:


1. Whisk together mayonnaise, lemon juice, lemon zest, and hot sauce, if you’re using. Add the fresh herbs, if you’re using them.


2. Pick over crab meat for any shells. Add mayo mixture to the crab meat. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.


3. If brushing outside of buns with butter, do so, then toast until golden brown.


4. Layer lettuce into each bun, divide crab meat mixture and spoon on top of lettuce. Enjoy!


Tell me if you try it!



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