Snacks can be a fun and valuable part of a person's healthful eating plan – but they can also add unneeded calories, sugar, sodium and fat.
If you choose carefully, and plan ahead, sensible snacks are an important part of any healthful eating plan. Snacks can prevent overeating at mealtimes and throughout the day. For children and adults alike, snacks can supply foods and nutrients that we might miss in meals, and especially offer a great way to eat more fruits, vegetables, whole-grains and dairy.
For active kids and teens, snacks can supplement meals. Because children are still growing, they may need to eat more often to get the calories they need and provide foods that might be missing from their meals.
For adults, a healthy snack can provide an energy boost, and satisfy your mid-day hunger. If you haven't eaten for three or more hours, a snack can help bring up your blood sugar level for optimal energy. For older adults with smaller appetites or limited energy, several small meals including snacks may be easier for their bodies to handle.
Ideas for Sensible Snacking:
Plan your snacks. Keep a variety of tasty, nutrient-rich, ready-to-eat foods nearby, for when you need a bite to take the edge off hunger. Then, you won't be so tempted by less-healthy options from vending machines, fast food restaurants, convenience stores or the contents of your own kitchen.
Make snack calories count. Snack on foods you may not eat at meals, but contain important nutrients, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy – foods we often don’t eat enough of. Think of snacks as mini-meals, ¼ to ½ the size of a real meal.
Go easy on high-calorie snacks such as chips, candy and soft drinks. They aren’t very effective at filling you up and satisfying hunger, so it’s easy to overeat when eating these types of foods. Plus, many are high in sugar, which is linked to all sorts of health problems. Make these types of choices on an occasion.
Snack when you're hungry – not because you’re bored, stressed or frustrated. Eating only when you’re physically hungry will ensure you’re fueling your body only when it needs it. Exercise can actually be a great way to feed those emotional urges.
Snack on sensible portions. Choose single-serve containers, or put a small helping in a bowl rather than eating directly from the package or container.
Quench your thirst with water. When you’re truly thirsty, there’s nothing like water to give your body what it needs and actually satisfy your thirst. If you need to “spruce up” your water, consider adding slices of fruit to it for a refreshing flavor. I love adding slices of lemon, lime, orange, cucumber, or grapefruit.
Some of my favorite Snack Ideas:
Fresh or frozen fruit
cottage cheese and fruit
sunflower seed butter on whole grain crackers
peanut butter on celery
dried fruit and nut mix
Snap peas, carrots, or deli meat with hummus
hard boiled eggs
avocado with a squeeze of lemon and salt
Making the right food and nutrition choices is a necessary part of biting into a healthy lifestyle. What’s your favorite snack?
In Health and Happiness,
Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods