For many of us, the new year is a time to make a fresh start. We're wiping the slate clean with a renewed sense of optimism for the year ahead, and we're trying to eat healthier foods_which means you won't find a macaroni and cheese recipe at the end of this article.

When it comes to reformulating our eating habits, it's a little bit easier to menu-plan breakfast, lunch and dinner. The real struggle, both in preparation and will power, comes when we start thinking about that mid-afternoon snack.

No matter the time, the reason, or the season, the best kind of snack to fill you up (and keep you that way) is one that is filled with protein. Nuts are especially handy as a snack food, because they are protein-rich, portable, and give us a daily dose of heart-healthy unsaturated fatty acids.

The downside to nuts is that they can get, dare we say it, a little bit boring. We can toast them, give them a light sprinkle of salt, and, well, that's about it before we start heading into border territories of healthy snacking. Raise your hand if you've ever tried to pass off a toffee-coated cashew as a heart-healthy snack.

If you're fed up with your 3 p.m. handful of almonds and find yourself eyeballing the office's snack machine, this Almond and Flax Crackers with Smoked Almond Spread recipe from The Culinary Institute of America is very much what you need. We made it a little fancy (more on that later), but at its core, this is "cheese" and crackers.

The crackers only have five ingredients, and they are vegan and gluten-free. They're spread on a baking sheet and dehydrated in your oven (so, low and slow baking), which means no fussy rolling and cutting. You'll love the bold flavor from a heavy dose of coriander seed, but you can mix and match any of your favorite seasonings, like fennel seed, curry blends, or even Korean-style chili paste.

The same is true for the almond spread we've made for a topper. This version relies on the flavor of smoked almonds, and substituting plain almonds would make it pretty bland. That is, of course, unless you add roasted garlic, fresh herbs, citrus zest, or horseradish. You can even add a sprinkle of nutritional yeast, which is a deactivated yeast product that has a cheesy flavor.

Of course, you can spread these crackers with virtually anything. They're perfect for your favorite hummus and butters, or alongside leftover roasted chicken and fresh fruits and veggies.

And they aren't just for office or after-school snacks. We piped the almond spread on the top of the crackers and garnished with some of our favorite microgreens and edible flowers. Not only do they add a flavor you just can't get from potato chips, but they make for a beautiful presentation at a brunch or cocktail party. Now that's how you dress up a snack.

ALMOND AND FLAX CRACKERS WITH SMOKED ALMOND SPREAD

Servings: 12

Start to finish: Active time: 25 minutes. Cooking time as much as 15 hours.

1 cup almonds

1 cup smoked almonds

1/2 cup golden flax seeds

2 tablespoons coriander seeds

2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce

1 tablespoon agave nectar

1 1/4 cup water, or as needed, divided use

Kosher salt, as needed

Micro herbs and edible flowers, as needed for garnish

In two covered containers, cover the almonds with water and soak overnight. Drain and reserve separately.

Preheat the oven to 170 F (see note). In a blender or food processor, combine about half of the flax seeds and the coriander, and pulse to grind finely. Add the drained plain almonds, remaining flax seeds, tamari, agave nectar, and 1 cup of the water, and blend until a smooth paste forms.

Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat. Spread the almond mixture into an even layer, all the way to the edge of the pan. Use the back of a knife to score the paste into your desired shape.

Place in the oven to dehydrate until dry and crisp, about 7 hours. (Time will depend on the size of your pan. An 18-by-13-inch pan will take about 7 hours.)

Meanwhile, in a clean blender combine the smoked almonds with the remaining 1/4 cup water, and blend until smooth. Season with salt, to taste.

Spread or pipe the almond spread on each cracker and top with micro herbs and edible flowers before serving.

Chef's Note: If your oven won't go to 170 F, set it to the lowest possible temperature, and check the crackers frequently, since they will cook faster.

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Nutrition information per serving: 167 calories; 126 calories from fat; 14 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 249 mg sodium; 8 g carbohydrate; 4 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 6 g protein.

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This article was provided to The Associated Press by The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.