Crunchy Snack Sense

Back when I livedredline and worked in Boston, I didn’t realize how good I had it. On a nice day, I could walk or bike to work. On a not-so-nice day, I took the subway. Sure, it was slow. But most days, the country’s oldest subway system was still pretty reliable. And the best part? I didn’t have to drive.

My current daily commute couldn’t be more polar opposite. At an hour-and-a-half each way, it’s what most people would call “a day trip” – particularly since I live in a place most people consider a vacation destination.

…getting home in one piece sometimes calls for extreme coping strategies.

Truth is, a long commute like mine can wear on even the strongest road warriors among us, especially at the end of a long, stressful workday. It doesn’t help if you average about six hours of sleep. I’ve discovered that under such extreme circumstances, getting home in one piece sometimes calls for extreme coping strategies. Beyond mere caffeine, I mean. And trust me, I’ve tried them all. Chocolate-covered coffee beans. Tart greenOpen-Bag-of-Potato-Chips-620x330 apples. Carrot sticks. Celery.  But in the end, I’ve found there’s no substitute for pure, unadulterated crunchy carbs. Which is why I usually resort to the ultimate road trip coping strategy, or what I call: crunchy snack sense.

I know I go on a bit about this topic, but this is serious stuff, yo. I’ve read that stress triggers cravings for crunchy snacks, and while I have no scientific proof I’m convinced from my own experiences that fatigue produces the same cravings. The good news is, the action of chomping down on crunchy foods actually helps. It has a way of engaging your senses and activating your mind to keep you alert. So you might as well give into it.

You can burn through a lot of cash stopping at quick marts for snacks.

Exhibit A

The trick is to find healthy crunchy snacks that don’t pack on the pounds, trash your car or drain your wallet. You can burn through a lot of cash stopping at quick marts for snacks. You can also end up consuming a lot of empty calories (see Exhibit A). And before you know it, you’ve basically had a bag of chips for dinner.

So I’ve shopped the aisles, read the labels, and tried to make sense of all the hype. And here, without further adieu, is my guide to good old-fashioned Crunchy Snack Sense, featuring the best crunchy snacks out there, ranked from guilt-free to guilty, along with the criteria I use to rank them. (Good value/reasonably priced. Easy-to-open package. Not too many servings or too few. Low in calories, high in nutrition. You get the idea.) Check back for updates as I discover new good-for-you crunchy snacks. And stay safe out there.

IMG_1563Luke’s Organic Protein + Fiber Chips

Rating: Guilt-Free

“With one snack, you’re doing your body a delicious favor by providing it with protein AND fiber.”

Luke’s is loaded with good stuff. Like organic grain and seeds (brown rice, brown rice flour, quinoa, amaranth and millet), organic black beans and sea salt. I know what you’re thinking: Sure, but they taste like cardboard, right? Wrong. These are light, bite-size morsels with a sweetly salty flavor and pleasing texture. Just be careful – the 5 oz bag is all too easy to empty. And at a whopping 700 calories, it won’t be so easy to burn off. Bonus: They’re made in California. Added bonus: The bag fits in my cupholder.

$2.39 for a 5 oz bag (TJ Maxx) • 140 cal/serving (50 from fat) • 5 servings/bag • 110 mg salt/serving • 0 g sugar • Organic • Gluten-free • Soy-free • Dairy-free • Peanut/Tree Nut-free • non-GMO

IMG_1570Ocean’s Halo Korean BBQ Seaweed Chips

Rating: Guilt-Free

“Smells like dog food! Tastes like bear!”

So said my 14-year-old daughter when she first tasted it. But that didn’t stop her from tasting it again. And again. And again. These chips are, in fact, quite delicious and nutritious. The brainchild of four dads from California, Ocean’s Halo seaweed chips are a) actually made with seaweed (it’s the first ingredient listed) and b) packed with protein, vitamins and minerals (seaweed is a superfood, after all). Bonus: 2% of profits go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Children’s Education Fund to inspire ocean conservation. Added bonus: They come in a compostable bag (that fits in my cupholder).

$4.29 for a 3 oz bag (Shaw's) • 110 cal/serving (25 from fat) • 3 servings/bag • 190 mg sodium/serving • 3 g sugar • Organic • Gluten-free • non-GMO • Vegan

PopcornIndianaPopcorn Indiana chip’ins

Rating: Guilt-Free

“We admit it, we’re obsessed. Obsessed with flavor, obsessed with crunch, obsessed with natural ingredients.”

That’s the first salvo from the folks at Popcorn Indiana on the back of the chip’ins bag.  For a company so obsessed with its products, I don’t know, I expected more. They’re good, but they didn’t blow me away. A little too much air, maybe, and not enough sunflower oil and sea salt. That said, they’re low-fat and definitely healthy – a 3-ounce bag fills you up without weighting you down. Bonus: They’re actually made in Indiana. Added bonus: A 3-ounce bag clocks in at a scant 360 calories.

$1.99 for a 3 oz bag (TJ Maxx) • 120 cal/serving (25 from fat) • 3 servings/bag • 210 mg salt/serving • 0 g sugar • All natural • Whole grain • Gluten-free

Barbara'sSnackimalsBarbara’s Snackimals

Rating: Low-Guilt

“Wildly snacktastic!”

Ha! You gotta love that. Snackimals are shaped like jungle animals and come in a kid-sized package with kid-friendly graphics. Best of all, they taste every bit as fun as they sound. Unlike the original vanilla bites that inspired them, however, they’re certified organic and made with organic unbleached wheat, organic cane sugar, organic safflower oil and other wholesome stuff. The only downside? I emptied the bag in about five minutes flat. Bonus: They’re made in Massachusetts. Added bonus: The bag fits in my cupholder with room to spare.

99¢ for a 2.125 oz bag (Shaw's) • 110 cal/serving (35 from fat) • 2 servings/bag • 65 mg salt/serving • 5 g sugar • Made with organic grain • Gluten-free • Soy-free • Dairy-free • Peanut/Tree Nut-free • non-GMO

supereatskale&chiasupereats kale & chia chips

Rating: Low-Guilt

“Good. Even better with hummus.”

The packaging says they’re dippable, and my daughter confirmed it. But I soon discovered supereats are just as super-good without dip. They’re also packed with nutrients, courtesy of two superfoods: kale and chia seeds. Black beans, flax seed, sesame seed and poppy seed add fiber and protein. Be forwarned: These chips are so super, your 5 oz bag will evaporate in no time, leaving you with 700 calories worth of snack to burn off – a tall order for even the most super-powered weekend warriors among us. Try the 1.5 oz single-serving bag instead. Bonus: They’re made in New York. Added bonus: They come in seven flavors – including sriracha!

$2.99 for a 5 oz bag (TJ's) • 140 cal/serving (60 from fat) • 5 servings/bag • 220 mg salt/serving • 3 g sugar • Kale is the #1 ingredient • Gluten-free • Trans fat-free • MSG-free • non-GMO

frontphotoBare Snacks

Rating: Guilt-Free

“3 in every bag”

Three apples, that is. Three baked apples, to be precise, in every package. In case you’re counting, that’s half your daily requirement of fruits and veggies in one 1.69-ounce bag! In fact, that’s the whole point of these snacks – crunchy baked goodness with nothing artificial and a bare minimum of ingredients. (The Simply Cinnamon flavor, for instance, has just two ingredients: apples and cinnamon.) Could this be the ultimate in crunchy snack sense? I mean, what more could you ask for? How about a choice of 17 flavors? There’s the original apple lineup (Simply Baked, Simply Cinnamon, Fuji Red, Great Granny and Sea Salt Caramel). There’s the organics (which give you a truly bare load of all them apples, plus medley too). There’s banana, in Simply Baked, Cinnamon and Cocoa Dusted. (Yeah, the folks at Bare Snacks don’t monkey around.) And last but most definitely not least, there’s Coconut, in Simply Toasted, Show Me the Honey, Sweet ‘N Heat, Chocolate Bliss and Sea Salt Caramel. Oh, and at just 90-170 calories per serving (with a mere two servings per bag), Bare Fruit Chips satisfy your hunger and your need to crunch without weighing on your conscience (or anywhere else, for that matter). Bonus: They’re made in Washington state. Added bonus: Bare is a certified B corporation, so you’re doing good for society and the planet with every bag you buy.

$1.39 for a 1.69 oz bag (Rite Aid) • 90-170 cal/serving • 2 servings/bag • 0-40 mg salt/serving • No added sugar • Fruit is the #1 ingredient • Gluten-free • Trans fat-free • No preservatives • non-GMO

Coming Soon:

Stacy’s Pita Chip

Rold Gold Honey Wheat Braided Pretzel