This budget-friendly trail mix is simple to make, easy to store, made with mostly real food, and it keeps well so you can make it ahead of time!
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When Chris and I started fitness training and our kids were very young, we needed a simple snack mix that would help us eat clean and stick to our budget.
We needed a snack that was:
- Gluten-free/grain-free preferrably
- Real food
- Easy to make
- Stored well so we could make it ahead of time
- Un-fussy because we had small children and spare time was scarce
- Something we would actually eat
Trail mix fit the bill perfectly. The problem was that we were picky. Chris didn’t like almonds, I didn’t like M&Ms (well, I like them, but didn’t think artificial colors belonged in a snack. Boring). We didn’t need the fancy expensive varieties of trail mix. We just needed something simple and budget-friendly and tasty. Preferably with chocolate chips (because I’m not that boring).
So we made our own trail mix.
Why Make Your Own Trail Mix
Have you ever bought trail mix, knowing it had those cashews you like, but it also had those weird fake-yogurt covered raisins?
We all know that trail mix is just chocolate with obstacles. Most of us have that one thing in the bag that we try to avoid grabbling when we get a handful of trail mix. So why not make your own, full of stuff you actually like?
If you want more fake-yogurt covered raisins, go for it.
If you don’t like almonds (why are almonds in EVERY bag of trail mix?) don’t use them.
And because it’s full of ingredients you like, you’ll enjoy it more and you won’t waste any of it. Since we all know trail mix will never compete with snack foods favorites like chips and cookies or fruit, why not try to make it as delicious as possible?
Additionally, depending on which ingredients you buy to make your trail mix, you can save a lot of money. I’ll show you how below.
How to Make Your Own Trail Mix
The rules for this are super complicated, so hang with me:
- Find stuff you like to eat in trail mix.
- Ignore the stuff you don’t (Don’t like those weird fake-yogurt covered raisins? Don’t use them).
- Mix it all together.
How Long Will Trail Mix Keep?
Trail mix will last as long as the ingredients you put into it. Chocolate chips melt in the heat, so store it in a cool, dark place, like a pantry or cupboard, – not the one over the stove, obviously.
Your ingredients should have a Best By date on the package, so use the soonest one as a guide. In general, shelled nuts can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 months and in the freezer for up to 6 months. So your trail mix in the pantry will probably taste better if you eat it within a few weeks.
However, I personally use that rule as a guide (i.e. almost ignore it completely) and store my trail mix in the pantry for 2 months, 5 months… or until someone finds the bag at the bottom of the snack basket and finally finishes it off.
Why Eat Trail Mix?
As far as snacks go, trail mix is a classic. It’s easy to make, pack, bring with you (you know, “on the trail”), and you can find the ingredients at nearly any grocery store.
Trail mix has the 3 main things humans crave in foods: salty, sweet, and fat, and the ingredients are fairly clean – nuts, dried fruit, and… chocolate.
Budget-Friendly Trail Mix
Trail mix can be as expensive or as cheap as you want to make it.
Here are a few tips for making your trail mix budget-friendly:
- Buy ingredients in bulk (or at a discount grocery store like Aldi)
- Focus on the inexpensive ingredients (like peanuts instead of cashews, or raisins instead of dried blueberries)
- But make sure you use ingredients you like. If you don’t like peanuts, buying them will only waste your money. Make a trail mix full of food you actually want to eat.
Trail Mix for Kids
We have a rule at our house for snacks. The rule is that if you are hungry between meals, you may have fruit, veggies, nuts, or raisins.
This rule accomplishes 3 things:
- It helps my kids decide if they are actually hungry, or just bored.
- It fills them with good food.
- It helps them be independent in the kitchen.
Trail mix falls under the fruit-veggie-nut-or-raisin umbrella. And while few kids would choose peanuts over chips and cookies, some will choose them over carrots. Especially if the peanuts come with chocolate chips.
And because this snack food is not chips or cookies, it will may stick with kids longer than empty carbs and sugar.
Trail mix so easy to make that you can empower your kids to make it themselves on a meal prep day! They can even decide how much of each ingredient to put into it (although I would put a cap on the chocolate chips. Just sayin’).
Since my goal is to work myself out a job, this recipe helps me do that.
Trail Mix with Chocolate Chips
Should you use chocolate chips in your “real food,” “clean eating” trail mix?
That’s completely up to you. As I said, I drew a line at candy-coated chocolate, but I’m okay with dark chocolate chips. Your line might be different from mine.
If I want my family to happily eat trail mix, it needs chocolate. That’s fine with me.
Dark chocolate has less sugar than semi-sweet or milk chocolate, so we try to use that, and I always use fewer chocolate chips in our trail mix than anything else.
But let’s be honest. Like the internet likes to remind us, trail mix is just chocolate with obstacles.
If you think chocolate ruins the “real food” aspect of your trail mix, leave it out. If you think chocolate is what makes trail mix worth eating, use it.
If you want to use even less added sugar, try breaking apart an 85% dark chocolate bar. Keep in mind that at that point, the chocolate is quite bitter. Personally, while I like 85% dark chocolate, I don’t want to eat it with something sweet like raisins, because that highlights how bitter it is.
Trail Mix Recipe
This trail mix recipe is:
- Real food
- Dairy-free (watch the ingredients in your chocolate)
- Vegan (watch the ingredients in your chocolate)
- Easy for kids to make
- Egg-free (watch the ingredients in your chocolate)
This is our go-to recipe for our family. It uses simple, budget-friendly ingredients that we all like. It avoids the ingredients we don’t like. And I (or my kids!) can make big batches of it and store it in jars in the pantry for easy snacks.
If you try this recipe, let us know! Leave a comment, rate it, and tag a photo #cheapskatecook and @cheapskatecook on Instagram.
- 1 cup peanuts, shelled, roasted, and salted
- 1 cup raisins
- 1 cup cashews or sunflower seeds, shelled, roasted, and salted
- 1/3-1/2 cup dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips
- Combine all ingredients in a container with a lid.
- That's it! Enjoy.
- Store at room temperature for up to 3 weeks.
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Nutrition InformationYield 10 Serving Size 1/3 cups
Amount Per Serving Calories 350Total Fat 24gSaturated Fat 6gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 17gCholesterol 0mgSodium 920mgCarbohydrates 31gFiber 4gSugar 19gProtein 9g
Please note: The actual calories and nutrition of this dish will change depending on what ingredients you use. Nutrition information is not always accurate.
More Easy Real Food Snacks:
What You Can Do Now:
What would you put in your trail mix?
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