A healthy eating plan should include snacks to boost your energy and fuel your body throughout the day. While the grocery store shelves are full of snack foods to please any palate, it’s important to choose wisely, to ensure your snacks are filling from healthy nutrients rather than just empty calories. The healthiest snacks include small servings from several different food groups and are built around fresh rather than packaged foods.
Focus on Fruits and Vegetables
The U.S. Department of Agriculture encourages individuals to make half your plate fruits and vegetables, and that goes for snacks as well as meals. Fresh fruits and vegetables are typically high in fiber, which makes them filling, as well as antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, which makes them healthy. As a bonus, they are generally low in calories, so they’re a good choice to eat in larger portions. Try to eat several different kinds of fruits and vegetables each week because they all provide different benefits. Cut and prep foods like carrots, peppers, celery and pineapple ahead of time so they’re within easy reach.
Filling Protein Foods
While fruits and vegetables should form the bulk of your snack plate, partner your produce with a serving of yogurt, cottage cheese or hummus, and you’ll get a good dose of healthy protein too. Protein is important at snack time because it increases satiety, or the feeling of fullness, and this helps to hold off your hunger for longer. Good protein choices for snacks include nuts or nut butter, dairy foods like low-fat cheese sticks or yogurt, hard-boiled eggs or even slices of lean meats like turkey or chicken or a small can of tuna.
Smoothies made from fruits, vegetables and regular or nondairy milk can conveniently include several healthy ingredients in one glass, and they’re great for when you’re on the run. Adding a scoop of protein powder makes them more balanced and filling, as will adding some fiber, from a scoop of chia seeds or oats. When making or buying a smoothie, keep any added sweeteners to a minimum to limit calories.
When shopping for snack foods, fresh foods are generally the healthiest choices, so try to plan most of your snacks around them. Packaged foods like chips, crackers, cookies or granola bars can include significant amounts of added fat, sugar or sodium, so they should be kept to a minimum. If you do buy packed snacks, compare the food labels and choose those that are lowest in fat, sugar and sodium and highest in fiber. Whole-grain crackers and pretzels, or low-fat popcorn, are healthier packaged snack choices, and when paired with some fresh fruit and protein like nuts or low-fat cheese, these can be part of a healthy and filling snack.