What is a nutrient dense food? Plus 8 nutrient dense snacks

Continuing with the “Back to School” theme this week, I thought I would share some of my favorite snacks. Whether you have kids and pack snacks for school and activities, you work full time, or you stay at home, chances are you reach for a snack at some point in your day. Snacking can be a part of a healthy diet, though its important to make sure you’re snacking on “healthy” foods.

So what is  considered “healthy”? Healthy is a broad statement and can be interpreted many ways, though when I think of healthy foods, I think of nutrient dense foods.

What does nutrient dense mean? Foods that are nutrient dense offer a large proportion of nutrients, protein, healthy fats, fiber etc in relation to a relatively low amount of calories.

For example: an apple is a nutrient dense food- with only about 80 calories per serving, you get various vitamins, minerals and fiber. On the other hand, a cookie is not a nutrient dense food- for about 150 calories, there are very few vitamins and minerals, with a higher amount of saturated fat and added sugar.

Generally speaking, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, lean meats, and some low fat dairy products will be considered nutrient dense. Most processed foods- packaged snacks, frozen meals etc- are not going to be nutrient dense.

As a working mom with a toddler in tow, I’m always packing snacks. I am fortunate in that my daughter prefers fruits and vegetables, though I still make a conscious effort to limit the processed foods as she does have an affliction for Annie’s Cheddar bunnies!

Here are some of my favorite snacks for kids and adults alike

  1. Protein Balls


I have been enjoying these Pumpkin chocolate chip protein balls using Whole Foods Cinnamon Vanilla Plant Based protein. The recipe is simple: heaping 1/2 cup plain canned pumpkin, 1/2 cup oats, 2 tbsp mini dark chocolate chips, 1 tsp honey, 2 tbsp ground flax seed, 1 scoop protein powder, dash of cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice. Mix all ingredients in a bowl and form into balls. Refrigerate until they are all gone!

2. Mama Chia Squeeze Pouch


I picked these up at the grocery store to try and later found them in bulk at Costco for a much better price. Each pouch is 70 calories, contains 1200 mg Omega 3’s, 4 grams fiber and 2 grams of protein. They are also organic and GMO free. They don’t need to be refrigerated prior to opening (although I would say they taste slightly better when they are cold), so they are perfect to keep stashed in your purse or diaper bag.

3. Veggies and hummus


Using a small mason jar, I dip each vegetable in hummus and stick in the jar. Carrots work great for packing ahead as they wont get soggy or wilt with the moisture. Hummus is great in place of dressing as it offers more protein and fiber with less fat.

4. Sunbutter kisses via Eating Bird Food


I recently found this recipe and was eager to make them for my daughter. Since they use Sunbutter (basically peanut butter made from sunflower seeds), they are ok for school as most schools are nut free.  They keep well in the refrigerator and would be perfect to send in a lunchbox.

5. Cottage cheese with fruit

cottage cheese

Did you know cottage cheese is loaded with protein?! Just a 1/2 cup of the low fat variety contains 14 grams of protein and about 100 calories. Pack up a 1/2 cup and sprinkle with your favorite fruit. We have been using a lot of blueberries this summer as they have been in season, although any other fruit would work too!

6. Mixed nuts


This simple snack is great to keep stashed in your desk at work, in your purse or even in your car. Go for the unsalted variety for less sodium.

7. Fruit

Fruit is indeed a nutrient dense food- rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals and has relatively low calories. I usually stick with fruits that are in season as they are generally on sale and taste amazing! Some of our favorites this summer have been nectarines, peaches, raspberries, blueberries, watermelon and grapes. For some extra protein and healthy fats, add a smear of your favorite nut butter to the mix!


8. Yogurt

This is a go to snack that is quick, easy and not messy with a toddler! I have been enjoying Siggis yogurt as it is low in added sugar and high in protein. Yogurt can be tricky as there are so many choices, many of which are loaded with extra sugar and thus more calories. Try to find a yogurt with less than 150 calories and 14 g protein or more per serving. Picking up plain Greek yogurt and adding a squirt of honey, fresh jelly, maple syrup or just plain fresh fruit (if you like the tart flavor) can be an easy way to keep the sugar in check. For the little ones- I buy the squeeze pouches to keep the messes at a minimum. I also love the ability to screw the top back on and save it if my daughter doesn’t finish the whole one at one sitting.



If you are just getting back into the routine of school, or this week is just another week at the office, I hope you are inspired to try some new healthy snacks!

Let us know what some of your favorite snacks are!


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