One of My Favorite Processed Foods (Perfect for Your Labor Day BBQ)

I'm not a fan of processed foods, by which I typically mean factory-made packaged items that are loaded with industrial ingredients. I believe the more foods you eat from living plants than processing plants, the better.

Not all processed foods are unhealthy, however. At its core, processing simply means altering something from its natural state. Juicing, canning and dehydrating are all processing techniques. And of course, any dish prepared in a food processor is a processed food.

Fancy gadgets usually don't excite me, but you simply can't beat the sheer speed and convenience of a food processor. On a recent family visit, I gave my sister's processor a major workout churning out treats like this refreshing cucumber soup, these whole-wheat sesame crackers, and the super easy dip below. Give 'em a whirl!

(If you don't have a food processor, borrow a pal's or treat yourself to one--check out the holiday sales.)

Sundried Tomato Hummus
One of my favorite "processed" foods is hummus, a creamy protein-packed dip made with chickpeas (garbanzo beans).

Store-bought hummus is often lackluster and made with low-grade oils, excess salt, added sugars and artificial ingredients. Homemade hummus is a snap to whip up; you basically dump everything into the processor and hit the 'on' button. Plus, you can tweak the flavor to suit your taste buds.

As it stores well in the refrigerator, I often make extra to have on hand for a healthy snack or light meal.

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (plus more to taste)
  • 3-3 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas, or 2 (15 ounce) cans (salt-free), drained and rinsed*
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil (I start with less and add more if needed)
  • 1/2 cup oil-packed sundried tomatoes, drained
  • 1/4 cup finely shredded fresh basil
  • 1/8 teaspoon paprika (optional)
  1. Place garlic, salt, tahini and lemon juice into a food processor and process until smooth.
  2. Add the garbanzo beans and olive oil; process until smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally.
  3. Toss in the sun-dried tomatoes and pulse until they are chopped into very small pieces and incorporated into the hummus. Note: I prefer to top the finished dip with fresh chopped basil each time I serve it, however you can also mix it into the dip after blending the sundried tomatoes.  
  4. Taste and adjust the flavor or consistency as needed (I usually add a bit more lemon juice and salt, and sometimes oil, water or leftover bean cooking liquid to thin it slightly).
  5. Refrigerate at least one hour.
  6. Sprinkle with basil and paprika before serving.  

*I like to cook my own dried beans for maximum flavor and texture. If using canned beans, go for Eden Organic, a BPA-free brand.

Serving Suggestions:

  • Enjoy with whole-wheat crackers. Most store-bought brands aren't 100% whole grain and have added sugars. Use your trusty food processor to bake your own, using this insanely easy sesame cracker recipe.
  • Raw veggies, like cucumbers, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower, are fun to dip into it.
  • Serve with toasted pita chips. Cut whole-grain pita pockets into four pieces, split the triangles apart, place in one layer on a baking sheet and cook at 350 degrees until crispy (about 10 minutes).
  • Spread on crusty, whole-grain bread and top with roasted veggies or cucumber, tomatoes and sprouts. Yum.

You may also want to try my crowd-pleasing Cilantro Jalapeno Hummus.

Leftover tahini? Stir up this zingy, creamy sauce in just a minute.
Hummus recipe adapted from

Reaching For Distraction: Smart Snacking

It’s 2:30.

I’m stuck.

I’m staring at my computer chewing on my lower lip.

Trying to write an article, but the words aren’t flowing.

When this happens, I want to bolt. That is, bolt from my desk straight to the kitchen for a rescue-me snack. Yep, I just know some crackers will magically get me unstuck. 

Am I hungry? No.

Seeking relief? Yes.

Looking for a distraction? You betcha.

Trying to solve my problem with food? Afraid so.

Can you relate?

When a Snack is Not the Solution
My clients often ask me for healthy snack ideas. I’m happy to share my list of smart snacks.  Before I do, however, I ask them to pause when a snack attack hits and ask themselves these three questions:

  1. Am I honestly physically hungry?
  2. If no, what am I avoiding doing or feeling?
  3. What truly would help me solve this problem?

Let me show you how it works:

(Me, standing in front of my open kitchen cupboard)

  1. Get real Renee, are you honestly physically hungry?
    Um, no.
  2. Ok then, what am I trying to avoid doing or feeling?
    I’m trying to avoid feeling like a stuck, frustrated, unproductive, crappy writer.
  3. What truly would help me solve this problem?
    Well, a walk usually fills my mind with fresh ideas whereas these crackers will just fill my belly.

Snacking often seems like the perfect remedy for frustration, boredom, anger, stress, anxiety, exhaustion, confusion, sadness. Sure, it may provide temporary relief, but then what?

Eating when I’m not hungry but rather trying to avoid something just adds a new problem on top of the original problem. Within minutes, I would have gone from being a writer with writer’s block to an overfed writer with writer’s block. Layer on top of that the guilt I would feel for eating out of frustration and now you have an overfed, guilt-ridden writer with writer’s block. Attractive, eh?

Slaying the Snack Dragon
The desire to snack when we aren’t hungry is an invitation to examine what our mind and body really need to feel nourished and energized.

It might be a walk, a nap, a glass of water, a good stretch or a chat with a friend.

It’s most likely not greasy, salty hands holding an empty chip bag.

As I’ve become a more mindful eater, I’ve been able to recognize my triggers and patterns (like the urge to nibble the minute I come home or when I can’t make a decision). This enhanced awareness has helped me learn to hit the pause button before mindlessly reaching for a snack. Doing so enables me to slay the snack dragon before it has its evil way with me.

Snacks that Sustain, not Drain
Of course, there will be times when you truly are hungry and need a little something to hold you over until meal time. Pick a snack that will sustain rather than drain you, one that will give you energy rather than send you crashing to the floor (think walnuts vs. donuts).

The healthiest snacks are nutrient-dense whole foods that fuel your body throughout the day helping you perform at an optimal level. Below are some smart snacking ideas. But remember, sometimes what you need the most isn’t found in the kitchen, vending machine, coffee shop or checkout line.

Smart Snacks
Here are a few healthy snack options. Be sure to watch your portion size to ensure your snack doesn’t become a meal.

  • Homemade popcorn: A whole grain, popcorn is an inexpensive, filling snack that both kids and grownups love. Jazz it up with a cumin and chili blend, nutritional yeast, curry powder, cinnamon, garlic salt, dried herbs--whatever sounds tasty.
  • Avocado or nut butter: Spread on whole-grain crackers, sprouted-grain toast or rice cakes.
  • Green smoothie: Blend together 6-8 kale leaves (stems removed), 1/2 banana, a cup of blueberries, scoop of protein powder, 1 1/2-2 cups of water or coconut milk and a few ice cubes.
  • Fresh fruit combo: A convenient choice, especially for a sweet tooth. As fruit is high in sugar, pair with fat and protein to lessen the sugar’s impact on your body. Try an apple with almond butter, a pear with cheese, peaches with plain yogurt, or strawberries with a handful of nuts.
  • Hummus: Kids and adults alike love to dip. Protein-rich creamy hummus is great with raw veggies or whole-wheat pita bread. Get creative and try a black or white bean hummus.
  • Kale chips: The perfect potato chip replacement. Remove the stems and toss the leaves with a 1-2 teaspoons of olive oil, salt and pepper (or other seasonings). Spread on a baking sheet in a single layer and bake for 8-12 minutes at 350 degrees until crispy. Re-crisp leftovers in the oven.
  • Indian-spiced roasted chickpeas: Wow your friends with these spicy little nibbles. Get the recipe here.

Have a snacking strategy or smart snack you love? Please share here.

Indian-Spiced Roasted Chickpeas

Wow your friends with these spicy little nibbles!

Super healthy, this addictive snack is easy to make and will fill your home with the most enticing aroma. Feel free to play around with the spices and seasonings. I like to double the recipe and fill glass Mason jars to give as gifts or take to parties.

Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are high in fiber, protein and antioxidants. They can help lower cholesterol, reduce heart disease risk, combat cancer and regulate blood sugar levels.

Indian-Spiced Roasted Chickpeas


  • 2 cups canned chickpeas (organic, no-salt added preferable)
  • 1 tbs. lemon juice
  • 1 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • Black pepper and cayenne pepper to taste


  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees
  2. Rinse and drain chickpeas then pat dry with a towel
  3. Combine everything, toss well
  4. Spread in a single layer on a parchment- or foil-lined baking sheet
  5. Roast, tossing a few times, for 40-50 minutes, or until the chickpeas are golden and crisp
  6. Cool

Happy, Healthy Snacking!