If you’ve never felt famished two hours before your next meal or undermined your healthy eating plans by desperately grabbing for a less-than-nutritious snack simply because it’s available, this might not be the article for you.
If, however, you are like me and can go from content to ravenous in a moment or are prone to making poor food choices when junk food is the only thing available to stop your stomach’s insistent growling, well, you’ve come to the right place!
Snacking is tricky business. It is an entirely individualized balance of planning and preference. Here are a few factors that make snacking unique for each person:
- Snacking is not for everyone. Some people prefer to eat only at meals, and that is just fine.
- How much and how often you need a snack is based on your own body cues.
- Your body cues can change from day to day and may not always be consistent, so learning to pay attention to them is important! (Check out my post on Mindful Eating here.)
There are also lots of issues unrelated to body cues that people consider when they make decisions about what and when to eat, make the waters of snacking even murkier:
- Time of day and when the next conventional mealtime will happen.
- Whether there will be another opportunity to eat before being hungry.
- Hedonic characteristics of food – things like taste, smell, and appearance that can make someone want to experience that food.
- Weight management: People might think they need to avoid snacks to lose weight, but going to a meal feeling extremely hungry can lead to overeating. Snacking can help keep hunger in check and aid in making good food choices.
With all these snacking influences swirling around, it is important to arm yourself with preparedness to eat at the right time for the right reasons.
The best solution is to plan by keeping a snack on hand as often as possible. Choosing the right kind of snack will go a long way toward making effective snacking strategies.
A good snack should be a carbohydrate plus a protein. Carbohydrates (called ‘carbs’ for short) are starches and sugars frequently found in foods like fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy. Proteins are available mainly in meats, eggs, dairy products, and legumes (like beans, peas, and nuts). The carb + protein combination provides an optimal mix of energy (from the carbs) and fullness (from the protein).
To add even more power to your snack, choose nutrient dense sources of carbs and protein. Nutrient density is a term that nutrition professionals use to refer to the amount of nutrients such as vitamins and minerals are found in a food. Nutrient dense foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and dairy. Picking carb + protein pairings from these categories is a great way to plan snacks that will give you an extra dose of nutrition.
Yogurt with fruit and granola
Whole grain English muffin with nut butter
Raisins and almonds
Hard-boiled egg and whole grain toast
Banana or apple with peanut butter
Cottage cheese and peaches in light syrup
Melon or pear and cheese
Sugar snap peas and hummus
Tuna or chicken salad on whole grain pita
Whole grain crackers with cheese
Baked potato with salsa and cheese, or bean chili
Trail mix (this is great to keep on hand in your car or bag)
Whole wheat tortilla with refried beans, cheese, and salsa, heated in microwave
Banana and peanut butter rolled in whole wheat tortilla
Popcorn with nuts
Some final considerations for planning your snacks:
- Plan snacks that you want to eat.
- If your snack needs to be chilled, make sure you have a refrigerator or insulated lunch box with ice packs available.
- If you’re going to be out-and-about, make sure your snack is easy to eat and doesn’t require a lot of utensils.
- If you don’t end up feeling hungry, know that you don’t have to eat your snack!
What are your favorite go-to snacks?
Nutrition & Weight Control course notes. University of Wyoming, 2012.
Nutrition411. Healthy snacks. Nutrition411. http://www.nutrition411.com/content/healthy-snacks-0. Published August 31, 2012. Accessed January 30, 2015.
Nutrition411. Snacks: How to choose healthy ones. Nutrition411. http://www.nutrition411.com/content/snacks-how-choose-healthy-ones. Published January 1, 2009. Accessed January 30, 2009.