healthy snacks

Gochujang Snack Mix (Recipe Redux)

This month’s theme on the Recipe Redux is a fun one that couldn’t have been better timed with all of my spring and summer travel plans — healthy recipes for snacks that will travel! You know I love a good travel snack so this was right up my alley. I put a spicy twist on the classic plane snack mix and upgraded the ingredients to be a little bit more balanced and interesting with this Gochujang Snack Mix.

Gochujang Snack Mix

Before we get to the recipe, let’s talk more about travel snacks and why it makes sense to actually pack them in the first place. Rarely do I go on a trip sans snacks!

I’m not opposed to airport food and the Denver airport actually has some really solid options (it’s the only reason I started getting there early 😂). But I do like having choices and not spending my entire food budget before the trip even starts, so I always pack a few things of my own, even if just to complement whatever I grab once I get there.

You never know when a flight will be delayed or cancelled so having something to tide you over to your next meal could be more clutch than you think. And besides being overpriced, a lot of the snacks available once you get on the airplane, are lacking in in the nutrition department (I’m looking at you, weird plane snack boxes).

Tips for Packing Healthy Travel Snacks

Protein & Fiber

Try to pack things that have some protein and/or fiber because these are generally a little bit harder to come by in the airport. Sure, you can probably find a banana or a red delicious apple but chances are it’ll be overpriced and flavorless.

Stay Hydrated

Stop paying an arm a leg for bottled water (or your other bottled drink of choice) and instead pack an empty re-usable water bottle that you can fill once you get through security. I have this one and LOVE it because I can toss it in my backpack without worrying about a leak, plus it keeps liquid really cold. Almost every airport has one of those handy filling stations now, and you’ll be happy to have it during your wait time and flight.

Keep it Varied

Bring a variety of options to suit whatever mood you’re in. Sweet, salty, savory, crunchy. You’ll be prepared for anything!

Favorite Healthy Store-bought Travel Snacks

Here are a few of my go-to choices for store-bought options, although this list changes as I find new products:

  • bars for something convenient, portable and filling

  • nut butter packets — especially the RX Bar ones that have added egg whites for more protein along with really fun flavors. These are great for adding to coffee shop oatmeal for early morning flights or eating with fruit for a snack later.

  • trail mix — usually a mix of dried fruit, nuts & dark chocolate

  • salmon jerky for a salty/savory option. I love this EPIC brand because they have interesting flavors like chicken sriracha and turkey cranberry sage.

  • a really good apple, because it’s sturdy, holds up well and isn’t a mess to eat (eating something like an orange on a plane is my WORST nightmare)

  • ginger chews. Does anyone else get queasy on take-off? I’m not sure if these do anything besides distract me, but I’ll take it.

  • tea bags. Just ask for hot water on the plane and you’re good-to-go. I take the lower caffeine options for evening flights and especially love TAZO green ginger.

Gochujang Snack Mix Recipe

Southwest is my airline of choice and they always pass out a free snack mix and pretzels once up in the air. So generous of them being that some airlines don’t even offer free water anymore. I wanted to put my own twist on the popular cheese version (you know the one!) and I thought I would spice things up a bit.

How to Make a Healthy Homemade Spicy Snack Mix

Lately I’ve been loving Korean flavors so for this recipe I leaned on gochujang, sesame oil, soy sauce and garlic. Gochujang is one of my favorite condiments of the moment!

Gochujang Snack Mix

If you aren’t familiar, it’s a fermented chile paste that has a mix of sweet, savory and spicy flavors and you should be able to find it at most grocery stores. If you want to learn more about Korean cooking and flavors, this podcast episode was awesome — they talked a lot about the staple ingredients and flavor profiles in Korean cooking.

I mixed the paste into some melted ghee along with a few other key ingredients to create a super flavorful liquid component and then poured it all over the mix before baking to get a nice caramelization. You can certainly use butter, but the ghee gives this extra depth of flavor so if you have it, use it!

Gochujang Snack Mix

The end result has a nice kick, but I promise it’s not too hot for those of you who are spice averse. Between the crunchiness from the nuts, the salt crystals from the pretzels and the crispiness from the cereal, this really has everything covered texture-wise too.

Whip up a batch to take with you on that next flight to make your snack game more interesting while keeping hunger at bay. Your seat neighbors will probbbbbably be asking you to share some.

Gochujang Snack Mix

Gochujang Snack Mix

Author: Leanne Ray, MS, RDN
Yield: 8 cups | Prep time: 5 min | Cook time: 45 min | Total time: 1 hour (including time to cool)


  • 2 cups cheddar square crackers

  • 2 cups wheat square cereal

  • 2 cups salted pretzel twists

  • 1 cup whole raw unsalted almonds

  • 1 cup whole raw unsalted cashews

  • 1/3 cup melted ghee or butter (melt first, then measure)

  • 1 Tbsp (heaping) fermented chile paste (aka gochujang)

  • 2 tsp soy sauce

  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil

  • 1 tsp granulated garlic


  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

  2. Combine all dry ingredients (crackers through cashews) in a large dish or bowl.

  3. Melt the ghee in a liquid measuring cup (about one minute on high in the microwave), then add chile paste, garlic powder, soy sauce and sesame oil and stir with a fork until well combined.

  4. Pour the liquid over the snack mix and toss well to completely coat (it takes a minute or two). Transfer to a large foil-lined baking sheet and spread into a single layer.

  5. Bake for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Cool completely before transferring to an airtight dish or freezer bag.


this mix will likely keep for up to a week. You can also freeze it for up to four months.

if you like heat, increase the amount of gochujang to 1.5-2 Tbsp.


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Make Your Own Starbucks Protein Bistro Box

DIY Starbucks Protein Bistro Box

Afternoon Snacks & Iced Coffee

When I was still working in an office, I would bring my coffee, lunch and snacks for the day instead of eating out about 95% of the time. Not a shocker, this is a huge money-saver for anyone looking to cut back on spending and a great way to cut back on food waste and eat your leftovers. I digress.

Every once in awhile I would venture out for an afternoon snack (especially on nice weather days when I wanted an excuse to get outside) and the one place that was walkable was a small Starbucks down the street. They had a couple of options like yogurt, popcorn, chocolate-covered nuts and bananas. Nothing special, but something I could make work if I got an afternoon iced coffee out of the deal.

Then they started serving something called a “protein bistro box” that had a hard-boiled egg, apples, grapes, cheese, a pita bread of sorts and some peanut butter. I loved this idea in theory; if you’ve been following me long enough you know I’m a fan of snack pairing and “snack lunches”. The first time I tried the bistro box though, I ended up being totally underwhelmed - it just lacked flavor and was kind of blah.

Even though I mostly work from home now, I thought it would be fun to put my own twist on the bistro box and freshen up the ingredients. These would be a great addition to your weekend meal prep. The best part is, you can buy whatever looks good so you never get bored of the same old stuff.

DIY Starbucks Protein Bistro Box
DIY Starbucks Protein Bistro Box

How to Build Your Own Starbucks Protein Bistro Box

Before I get started let me just clarify there really is no “right” way to do this. For inspiration, here’s a rough idea of what to pick up from the store for a colorful and satisfying box:

  • Fruits & vegetables

  • Mini pita, whole grain crackers or chips

  • Eggs, hummus, favorite deli meat (I would avoid anything smoked, because the potent flavor will probably make everything in the box taste smokey)

  • Cheese (I love Babybel because they are wrapped, portable and full of flavor)

  • Optional: nuts or trail mix, chocolate, dried fruit, and maybe even a tea bag

Just set up an assembly line and start dividing things between your favorite food storage containers. I love these Pyrex ones because they don’t stain, they’re dishwasher safe, clear (so I can easily see what’s inside) and also have the lids that lock on for an airtight seal. I’ve slowly been transitioning to pyrex over the years and getting rid of my dingy plastic containers. Such a great investment!

I only had one hard-boiled egg left when I made these, so one of them has a side of roasted red pepper hummus. I grabbed a disposable salad dressing container from the grocery store salad bar but you could also use a parchment baking cup or small condiment dish to keep dips and spreads separate.

Make Your Own Starbucks Protein Bistro Box

Upgrade Your Protein Bistro Box

  1. I used berries and orange slices instead of apples because I’m not a fan of the packaged, pre-sliced apples. They tend to lose flavor and start to brown fast once you cut them. Use any seasonal fruit that you like!

  2. I more “medium-boiled” the eggs and topped with Everything-But-The-Bagel seasoning. I know the overcooked hard-boiled eggs are probably a food safety precaution but I like mine to be more on the jammy side. If you haven’t tried EBTB seasoning on your eggs, highly recommend!

  3. I went with a seedy cracker over the pita bread for more crunch. This brand was new to me and I’ll definitely be buying them again. I loved that they had really good texture and 3 grams of fiber per serving.

  4. Lastly, I added some vegetables for more nutrition and variety (and because that’s one of the the things I do best 😂)

Cost Comparison

The Starbucks version is somewhere between $4.50-$5.50 based on the information that I found online (dependent on location). I wanted to calculate the cost of the one I made at home for the sake of comparison and here’s what I came up with. I broke it out into cost per serving for each ingredient.

  • Crackers $0.56

  • Orange $0.36

  • English cucumber $0.25

  • Red bell pepper $1.00

  • Egg $0.22

  • Hummus $0.30

  • Cheese $0.80

Total cost per one box = $3.49

Dang those bell peppers! The cost isn’t of the made-at-home one isn’t much lower because I used the red bell pepper and they are pricey (this is the cost I pay for wanting colorful photos).

If you left the bell pepper out or swapped in something like celery sticks or carrots, the total cost would be about half of the store-bought version and since you can make several in a short amount of time I would say that’s a win!

The only thing missing is that iced coffee but I’ll save that tutorial for another post.

DIY Starbucks Protein Bistro Box

Note that there are affiliate links in this post meaning, at no cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase. Thanks for reading!

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Maple Tahini Snack Balls

You guys, I have a simple, sweet and salty snack recipe for you today that is delicious, if I do say so myself. Sometimes I get an idea for a new creation in my head and will not stop thinking about it until I bring it to fruition. These maple tahini snack balls are the perfect example of that. 

It all started several weeks back when I took a poll on Instagram. If you follow me over there, you know that I constantly rave about my love for tahini. I was mentioning some different uses for it and then asked if anyone had tried it in a traditionally sweet recipe. Most people responded "no" so I immediately started thinking of a way I could incorporate into a snack. I decided to try to replicate the ever-so-popular oat ball and use the tahini in place of more traditional nut butters.

Maple Tahini Snack Balls by Leanne Ray Nutrition

All About Tahini

In case you are way confused, tahini is essentially ground sesame seeds (a sesame seed "butter" if you will) that is popping up in sweet and savory recipes all over the place right now. I am thoroughly obsessed with tahini sauce on noodles, grain bowls, and in homemade salad dressings. And while I'm not really a dessert person, my interest is piqued when someone swirls tahini in brownies

See also // Spiced Chickpea and Kale Stuffed Sweet Potatoes with Tahini Sauce

Last week in my ultimate guide to nut butter, I included tahini in the list and mentioned that it's a plant-based source of calcium along with magnesium and iron, all of which are hard to come by nutrients (especially for plant-based eaters). It adds 6 grams of protein and some satiating, heart-healthy fat with each two tablespoon serving as well. So as if there weren't already enough reasons to try it... nutrition!

Unlike some of the other more popular nut butters on the market, tahini is not typically eaten straight from the spoon because it's on the bitter side (I warned you). It does however transform into pure gold when mixed with something sweet and spicy - or in the case of these, sweet and salty. 

ingredients to make maple tahini snack balls


Here's the line-up for what you need to make these happen:

  • Old-fashioned rolled oats + quick oats (if you have them)

  • Ground flaxseed. I love this Manitoba Milling Co brand because it's smooth, almost like a protein powder instead of gritty like the traditional versions (full disclosure: I'm a brand ambassador for MM).

  • Salt

  • Tahini

  • Maple Syrup

  • Vanilla extract

  • Sesame seeds

With energy ball recipes, it's best to use a combination of whole rolled oats and some "quick" oats, but instead of buying two different kinds - especially since I much prefer the rolled oats for breakfasts - I just give half of them a whirl in my food processor until they look like quick oats. This will make your final product more cohesive, as opposed to crumbly. 

dry ingredients and wet ingredients maple tahini balls

Once you are set with your oats, you will simply combine all of the dry ingredients in one bowl, all of the wet ingredients in another bowl, and then mixed them up until the result is a nice "dough" of sorts. This step is always a little awkward because you will think it's impossible to mix together, but use the flat side of a wooden spoon to really work the wet ingredients into the dry. They will come together - trust me!  Once you get everything mixed well, you will want to cover the bowl and put it in the fridge for 20 minutes to rest so the oats can soak up some more moisture and it will be much easier to handle.

maple tahini ball mixture resting

After 20 minutes, portion into one inch balls using a small cookie scoop to make them uniform. This is definitely the most efficient way I have tried and also results in less sticky hands along the way. An optional but fun step is to roll each ball in sesame seeds. I really loved the extra crunch/texture this provided and it also looks really pretty!

dipping maple tahini balls in sesame seeds
maple tahini balls stacked up

The flavor of these is nutty and complex. As much as I love classic peanut butter, I eat it a lot so these were a nice change and the tahini really comes through. Plus they are a breeze to throw together! The recipe scales well too, so feel free to double it like I often do. 

maple tahini balls packed up in storage container

Maple Tahini Snack Balls

Yield: 10 balls | Prep time: 15 minutes | Total time: 45 minutes (mostly hands off)

Note: This recipe has been updated since it's original version. After making these several times, I decided that the dates were unnecessary and added an extra step so I removed them to make it easier and quicker without impacting the final product! 


  • 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

  • 1/4 cup ground flax seed

  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt

  • 1/4 cup tahini

  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup

  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

  • optional: 3 Tbsp sesame seeds


  1. Place 1/2 of the oats in a food processor and pulse until it resembles quick oats. Add these to a bowl with the other 1/2 of the oats along with the flaxseed and salt. Mix well.

  2. In a separate smaller bowl, combine the tahini, maple syrup and vanilla.

  3. Add wet ingredients to the dry and mix until thoroughly combined. Cover bowl and put in the refrigerator to rest for 20 minutes.

  4. Using a small cookie scoop, portion into one inch balls and roll in sesame seeds.

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