When you hear the word “snacking,” you may picture mindlessly munching on chips or pretzels from the closest vending machine. Because of this, you may see snacking in a negative light. When done correctly, however, snacking can actually be an important part of your healthy diet plan. Choosing the right snacks can help keep you satisfied between meals while contributing important nutrients to your diet.
Go for the Combo
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends including foods from at least two food groups when choosing your snacks. Doing so helps optimize nutrition since foods from varying food groups are rich in different nutrients. Eating some protein and fat at snack time will also help keep you satisfied until your next meal. Pair yogurt with fresh berries, carrot sticks with hummus and whole-grain crackers with a couple cubes of cheese. Wrap some cheese in a couple pieces of turkey, or spread all-natural peanut butter on a banana.
Make It Portable
Choose portable snacks that you can have on you at all times. Having access to a healthy snack makes it less likely that you’ll reach for unhealthy options when you get hungry. Pack a banana with a packet of almond butter, mini rice cakes smeared with natural peanut butter, string cheese with apple slices or a hard-boiled egg with some chopped vegetables. You can also make your own trail mix by adding unsweetened dried fruits to almonds and cashews.
Ditch the Package
Although it’s tempting to reach for those 100-calorie snack packs or a package of “natural” fruit snacks, resist the urge. Many low-calorie prepackaged snacks lack any real substance and are filled with artificial ingredients that are less than ideal. Make your own snack packs by buying raw nuts and unsweetened dried fruits in bulk. Mix them together and put them in individual sandwich bags that you can easily grab on the go. Chop up fruits and vegetables and place them in individual baggies with a few cubes of cheese.
Watch Your Portions
Snacks should be just that -- snacks. They should provide enough calories to hold you over until your next meal but not as many as a standard meal. Aim for about 150 to 200 calories per snack. To put it in perspective, snack options that contain 150 to 200 calories include six whole-grain crackers with 1 tablespoon of natural peanut butter, 8 ounces of yogurt with 1 cup of melon or one small pita pocket with 2 ounces of light tuna.
- Harvard Medical School Health Publications: 5 Ways to Snack Smarter
- Harvard Medical School: Snacks -- A Bridge Between Meals
- President and Fellows of Harvard College and YMCA of the USA: Snack Sense
- Montana State University: Healthy Snack Ideas
- American Heart Association: Healthy Snacking
- University of California, San Francisco, Medical Center: Healthy Snack Ideas
- ChooseMyPlate.gov: Snack Ideas