Energy Balls and “Always, Sometimes, & Never” Foods

Hooray! It’s October 1st, and the first day of the October Unprocessed 2013 challenge! Today we also begin our month-long series of fabulous guest posts.

Krista and Jeff Roche, aka the Rambling Roches, are busy working parents of two young sons. Amidst the happy chaos of parenthood, they prioritize healthy eating and family nutrition. After losing a combined total of eighty pounds through clean eating, they’ve made it their lifestyle and enjoy writing about their family’s culinary adventures on their blog.

Today they’re sharing their terrific recipe for “Energy Balls” — along with their smart philosophy of “Always, Sometimes, and Never” foods. They also wrote a brilliant poem to go with it — how great is that?

#Unprocessed Energy Balls

So, you’ve got children who eat every vegetable, never beg for junk food, and eat only unprocessed food. No? Neither do we! We do have children who will taste vegetables, gobble fruit, and who have gradually accepted that we don’t eat fast food. We’re stepping in the right direction as a family, still on the road to optimal nutrition.

Last year we completed October Unprocessed, but didn’t involve the children much. This year, we’ll be using October Unprocessed to reflect on and improve our family’s eating habits. To do so we’ll talking to our children about Always, Sometimes, and Never foods. When my son Finn was two, his preschool introduced us to this concept. We’ve been loving it ever since. While, I think each family will define that in terms of their own food values, here are our definitions:

“Always” Foods

These are foods that you can eat anytime. Organic fruits, veggies, lean proteins, full-fat dairy, and whole grains fall into this category for us. Plants and happy animals are Always Foods.

“Sometimes” Foods

This category includes items with less nutritional value, but none of the harmful ingredients contained in Never Foods. Think homemade treats and packaged goods that qualify as unprocessed. You can increase your family’s nutrition by preparing these Sometimes Foods at home with Kitchen Test approved ingredients.

“Never” Foods

To us, Never Foods aren’t really food at all. To quote Michael Pollan, they’re “edible food-like substances.” In particular look for ingredients like artificial dyes, high fructose corn syrup, and trans fats. In our family, we put soda, processed junk food, and fast food into this category.

One note about Never Foods, is that the name is a misnomer. For most of us, they are more like very rare foods. For example, a handful of trips to the local ice cream shop is on tap for our family every summer, regardless of the dyed sprinkles and candy toppings. We can tolerate this and other forays into the field of Never Foods, as long as it is very rare.

As with everything parenting, this Always-Sometimes-Never model isn’t one-size-fits-all. It’s a guideline to adopt and adapt to fit your family. If you’re just starting on the path to healthy eating, some of our Never Foods might act more like Sometimes Foods in your household. Use the formulation that works for you, then revise and revamp as needed. You can each your children about nutrition as you apply the model that works for you, and build your catalog of healthy, kid-friendly recipes along the way.

Krista and Finn making Energy Balls

Before we get to one of our favorite kid-friendly recipes, here’s a poem we’ll be using this month with our little guys to talk about Always, Sometimes, and Never Foods:

ALWAYS FOODS are the very best!
They pass the Unprocessed Kitchen Test,
So, eat more of these foods than all the rest.

Fruits and veggies are Always Foods,
That will keep your body feeling good.
Nuts and seeds and eggs and meat,
Are perfect Always Foods to eat!

Farmers markets are great spots,
To get Always Foods that are tops.
There’s one more thing so don’t panic,
Always Foods should be organic.

SOMETIMES FOODS can be okay,
Just not too many in one day,
So you’ll have the energy to play!

Sometimes Foods include some sweets,
Like chocolate milk or home-baked treats.
Perhaps some tasty whole-grain crackers,
Would be perfect for your afternoon snacker.

Sometimes Foods include lemonade,
And the birthday cake dear grandma made.
A little of these foods can be just fine,
Just remember — not all the time.

NEVER FOODS mean beware!
Since you treat your body with good care,
Never Foods should be very rare.

Their ingredient lists are tough to read,
With funny sounding names indeed.
With high fructose corn syrup and GMOs,
These types of food are major NOs!

While these treats might look yummy,
They will be hurtful to your tummy.
So if it’s dyed #40 Red,
Eat an organic apple instead!

A last reminder before we go:
ALWAYS foods will help you grow!
SOMETIMES foods can be okay,
And NEVER foods mean stay away!

Energy Balls

4 from 2 votes

Energy Balls

This recipe passes both the Kitchen Test and the Kid Test. Due to the chocolate chips, we classify this as a Sometimes Food, albeit a very frequent one in our household. The nut butter and oats provide protein, and the flax and chia offer health benefits like Omega-3s. We hope you enjoy these gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free snacks!
Course Snack
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Yield 8 servings
Calories 306 kcal
Author Krista and Jeff Roche


  • 1 cup gluten-free rolled oats
  • ½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • ½ cup peanut or almond butter
  • ½ cup chocolate chips
  • 8 medjool dates pitted
  • 1 tablespoon ground chia seeds
  • 1 tablespoon flaxseed meal


  1. Place all ingredients in a food processor. (Oh, the irony of October Unprocessed!)
  2. Mix thoroughly.
  3. Roll into balls.
  4. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Recipe Notes

1. Make sure all of your ingredients pass the Kitchen Test. Not all nut butters pass. For the chocolate chips, we use Enjoy Life.
2. Use organic ingredients if you can.
3. We prefer Bob’s Red Mill for the oats and flax.


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October 1, 2013 11:15 am

Due to lupus I’ve been eating unprocessed for some time now, my husband is ‘sort of’ on board. However, he hates coconut and so many recipes call for it…do you think I could just leave it out, or maybe substitue something else?

October 1, 2013 3:47 pm
Reply to  Kelly

I was wondering the same thing. Not a big fan of coconut.

Krista Roche
October 1, 2013 4:44 pm
Reply to  Pam

I’ve never tried it without coconut, but I don’t think it would negatively impact it. We call them goo balls, and they might be gooier without the coconut. If it isn’t the right consistency, you can add more oats.

Charles B
Charles B
October 1, 2013 5:38 pm
Reply to  Kelly

I’d try sliced almonds if I didn’t love coconut. Similar texture. Or just use more oats as suggested.

October 1, 2013 11:14 am

Love the sun butter option, especially for those with peanut/tree nut allergies.

October 2, 2013 12:30 pm
Reply to  Alicia

Great to use sunflower seed butter for kids lunch boxes, schools are trying to help keep all kids safe. The rise of nut allergies is at an alarming rate, approximately 2 kids in every classroom!

October 1, 2013 11:10 am

I love the poem. So cute. I’ll have to start using it with my 2 year old.

Lauren O'Connor
October 1, 2013 9:49 am

What a coincidence! I just made a version of energy bites yesterday! I use a mini scoop as well. Very similar recipe (organic oats, unsweetened shredded coconut, almond butter, 3 dates, flax meal, alittle water to moisten enough while processing). I often vary this recipe depending what I have on hand. Sometimes I use unsweetened applesauce to moisten and like to add a bit if mini chocolate chips. Delish raw or baked!

Happy Unprocessed Day 1!!



October 1, 2013 9:43 am

There is also a product out there called Sun Butter – You can get organic, which is what I aim for, and has nothing added except sunflower seeds. It’s hard not to overeat it! Delicious!

October 1, 2013 9:41 am

3 stars
May I suggest in place of chocolate chips, using dried apple chips? Still sweet, easy to make at home if you can’t find any that don’t have color stabilizers added (use lemon juice or vinegar at home), more nutritious and add to the chew factor. Not to mention, apples help (not so much in this small quantity, but…) with asthma and environmental allergies.

Lynn Phillips
Lynn Phillips
October 1, 2013 9:30 am

Love the energy balls!! Can’t wait to make them. They look yummy! We make our own peanut butter and it is much better tasting than what we found in the super market!

Mary Ann Teal
Mary Ann Teal
October 1, 2013 9:09 am

5 stars
Sounds wonderful, I’ll make today! As far as the peanut butter, I’ve started making my own, very easy via the food processor. Just a jar of plain roasted peanuts processed to the texture I want at the time. I process most of the peanuts to a smooth butter then add more and process just a bit. When I first started I added a bit of peanut oil to make it creamier but decided early on that it is not needed. Actually much easier than trying to mix the “natural” peanut butter I used to purchase. This goes right into a wide-mouthed canning jar and into the refrigerator, never separates!

Krista Roche
October 1, 2013 9:14 am
Reply to  Mary Ann Teal

Awesome. Thanks for the tip, Mary Ann! We rely Whole Foods to blend ours, but this month I will try to make some at home. Thanks for sharing!

October 1, 2013 8:47 am

Oops – I posted the above comment on the wrong blog, sorry!

October 1, 2013 8:46 am

I just found you today via the October Unprocessed Challenge and so glad I did! This recipe looks delicious. I know my boys will love it.
You have a new follower 🙂

Krista Roche
October 1, 2013 8:53 am
Reply to  Janet

So glad you found us, Janet! My boys LOVE this recipe. Enjoy!

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