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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Donna B
Donna B
October 3, 2013 2:41 pm

I am a second year Nursing Student, and I am finishing a clinical rotation at a daycare here in Philadelphia. We have to do a teaching project, and my partner and I picked nutrition…specifically “Always” foods, “Sometimes” foods, and “Never” foods. I am going to make these energy balls for the children (using almond butter in case of peanut allergies), and share the recipe and the poem with them. I am really excited to have seen this site on our local news. Can’t wait to try some of the other recipes as well!!

Krista Roche
October 3, 2013 3:34 pm
Reply to  Donna B

So glad that you can use the poem with the children! I hope your presentation goes well.

October 4, 2013 11:21 am
Reply to  Donna B

Sunflower seed butter would be a safer alternative “recent studies, an estimated 25-40 percent of people who have peanut allergy also are allergic to tree nuts.2 In addition, peanuts and tree nuts often come into contact with one another during manufacturing and serving processes.  For these reasons, allergists usually tell their patients with peanut allergy to avoid tree nuts as well.”

October 3, 2013 8:50 am

Anyone have any ideas for a nut-free version of this? (Or am I just out of luck?) My fiance has a nut allergy, but I’m constantly looking for snack-type foods like this to keep him well-fed while he’s at work.

October 7, 2013 6:37 am
Reply to  Stephonee

Hey Stephonee! You can use sunflower seed butter instead of a nut butter. Hope that helps!

Lauren O'Connor
October 9, 2013 4:28 pm
Reply to  Stephonee


For nut-free version: I just sent a comment suggesting you try pumpkin puree in place of the nut butter. It worked well in my version (1 cup oats, 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes, 2-3 Tbsp pumpkin puree, 3 lg pitted dates, 1 TBSP raisins, 1 TBSP flax meal, cinnamon and cloves to taste). Test it out. : )

Note: You can always add vary ingreds a bit to get consistency desired. If my mixture too thick – I add in a little water; if too thin – I add in more oats.

October 2, 2013 5:08 am

I have enjoyed using medjool dates and raw nuts in treats…my teenies love them too!

Charles B
Charles B
October 1, 2013 5:47 pm

I just made a cranberry-orange version of these the other week. They turned out rather wet and sticky for too much orange juice/pulp, but otherwise they’re really good. When I do it again, I’ll go with: 5oz almond meal, 8oz oats, 3oz dry cranberries, 5oz pitted dates, 1/2 TBSP cinnamon, all the zest and pulp of 1 orange.

October 1, 2013 4:14 pm

Love how kid friendly these sound! I want to try them, especially with the sun butter. My daughter is allergic to dairy & it’s funny how often people will feel sorry for us & I just laugh it off! It’s way easier to go dairy-free than people might think. Thanks for sharing this! Looking forward to a great month (especially once the headache goes away!) 🙂

Chef Kirsten Helle
October 1, 2013 2:41 pm

I absolutely adore how simple you made it. Although I am nearly 100% unprocessed all of the time, I like you, have kiddos that are on their own path. 🙂 They have a few more “sometimes” foods than I let myself (I’m in the process of slowly educating them why they should make better choices for themselves too) but the never foods aren’t allowed in my home either. The recipe looks wonderful too, can’t wait to try!

Lauren O'Connor
October 1, 2013 2:40 pm

Guess my comment got deleted. Love this recipe and it’s easy to vary with different dried fruits, nuts, etc. I call the ones I make at home energy bites because the mini scoop makes them perfect bite-sized treats. A winner with my 5-year-old girls for sure, and so simple to make!

Happy Unprocessed Day One!!



Dana @ Foodie Goes Healthy
October 1, 2013 12:59 pm

I love this concept of always-sometimes-never. It’s simplicity is helpful for kids and adults alike. Thanks for sharing. Also, I find that if I have healthy, tasty treats (like these energy bars) available at home, my kids are happy to eat them and don’t think about junk food… until we’re assaulted by the junk at the end of the grocery aisle.

October 1, 2013 11:51 am

These look yummy. Can’t wait to try them!!

October 1, 2013 11:51 am

Thanks for the tip about Enjoy Life chocolate chips. I’ve had a hard time finding ones without soy and am looking forward to trying these.