Today is National Trail Mix Day. Known by many names, I grew up calling it GORP (Good Old Raisins and Peanuts), trail mix is a type of snack mix, specifically a combination of dried fruit, nuts, and sometimes chocolate.
Trail mix is considered an ideal snack food for hiking and camping because it is lightweight, easy to store, and nutritious, providing a quick energy boost from the carbohydrates in the dried fruit or granola and sustained energy from fats in nuts. Trail mix is also perfect for sporting activities, field trips, and other high-calorie burning adventures.
The combination of nuts, raisins and chocolate as a trail snack dates back at least to the 1910s, when outdoorsman Horace Kephart recommended it in his popular camping guide. In the 1960s, trail mix was popularized by Paul Hadley of Hadley Fruit Orchards, who developed energy-boosting blends of dried fruit, nuts and seeds and marketed them to hikers in the neighboring San Jacinto Mountains.
However, in recent years, I feel that trail mix has become less of a high energy snack and more of a camp candy, which is a far departure from its original purpose. For trail mix to pack the energy punch that it’s supposed to, it can’t just be all candy. It needs to be primarily carbs, proteins and fats, with a little sugar for that sweet treat.
So long as trail mix includes the key three, the sky is the limit as to what to put in it. That’s another great thing about trail mix; it is definitely not a one-size fits all. It’s very customizable.
So, what makes a great trail mix?
Well, as we’ve already said, it needs to have carbs, proteins, and fats. It needs to have some crunchy bits and some chewy bits. It needs to have some sweet and some savory. And, above all, it needs to have flavor and stuff you like; otherwise, you’re not going to eat it no matter good for you it is.
Let’s explore the world of possibilities. When building your trail mix, include ingredients from each category and you can’t go wrong.
Nuts or Seeds
Good nut choices include almonds, pistachios, cashews, peanuts, and walnuts. Higher-calorie macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, pecans, and pine nuts are also good options in moderation. Nuts are loaded with healthy unsaturated fats, protein, fiber, antioxidants, vitamin E, and other essential vitamins and minerals. Raw or roasted, go for unsalted, unsweetened nuts to keep sugar and sodium in check.
For those with nut allergies (or just looking to mix things up), seeds provide many of the same nutritional benefits as nuts and many are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, gamma linolenic acid, protein, zinc, iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, and calcium. Good seed choices include hemp, sunflower, sesame, flax, and pumpkin.
Fruits or Berries
Good choices include dried apricots, pineapple, cranberries, blueberries, cherries, figs, apples, dates, raisins, banana chips, goji berries, strawberries, and mango. Fruit can be a great source of fiber, antioxidants, calcium, and vitamins A, C, and K. Look for dried fruit options with as little added sugar and preservatives as possible (some varieties, like cranberries, are naturally quite tart and almost always sweetened with cane sugar or apple juice). It’s also pretty easy to make your own dried fruit at home in the oven.
For that little bit of crunch try granola, toasted oats, sesame sticks, pretzels, tortilla chips, shredded wheat squares, air-popped popcorn, puffed rice, corn flakes, whole-grain cereals like Cheerios or Chex, bran flakes, and whole-wheat crackers. Grains add complex carbohydrates for extra fiber, which boosts overall energy and helps to keep you full. Choose whole grains whenever possible and avoid highly processed cereals that add unnecessary sugar and sodium.
Round out your trail mix with a sprinkling of something sweet, including M&Ms, chips or nibs (dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, peanut butter, carob, butterscotch), gummy candies, chocolate-covered coffee beans, yogurt-covered raisins, mini marshmallows. When choosing chocolate, remember that dark varieties have extra antioxidants. A little bit of sugar is perfectly acceptable and, according to Mary Poppins, “helps the medicine go down.” Just remember to add sugary treats sparingly. They should not be a main component.
Unique Mix-Ins & Savory Extras
Kick it up a notch with coconut flakes, wasabi peas, candied ginger, pork rinds, coffee beans, and seaweed rice crackers. Adding spices is a great way to change up the flavor a bit. Season the mix with sea salt, curry, ground ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, or cayenne pepper.
Some Assembly Required
Start by choosing just a couple ingredients from each category. Keep it simple. Don’t pack too many flavors in, but have enough variety to make every handful a little different. Don’t be afraid to mix it up once and a while and add something new or come up with new combinations.
When you’re ready to assemble, combine ingredients and store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place to prevent spoilage.
When making trail mix for a camping or hiking adventure, sporting activity, or urban experience, allow each family member to build their own. Set out ingredients, grouped by category, and give everyone a resealable bag, mason jar, or plastic container. Guide little ones so they don’t load up on all the sugary stuff and leave out the nutritional building blocks.
Trail mix is a power hitter when it comes to snack food and is not just for hikers. I pack a little trail mix to work every day for a nutritious energy boost for when I hit that afternoon slump. And, yes, I have Craisins in mine! What’s in your mix?
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