Snacking can allow unwanted calories, excess fat, and refined sugar to creep into your diet. But it doesn't have to be this way. Instead, snacking can be a great way to get extra nutrients, hold you over until your next meal, and give you an energy boost in the middle of the day.
Getting Started Snacking
Healthful snacking requires more planning and effort than a trip to the vending machine. But it is worth it. The American Dietetic Association offers some guidelines to help make snacking work for you:
- Plan ahead so that you have the desired food on hand when you need it.
- Instead of munching absentmindedly, make snacking a conscious activity.
- Choose lower-fat snacks.
- Choose nutrient-rich foods.
Smart Snack Choices
What makes a snack smart? First, it should be easy to make and simple to pack for a person on the go. Second, it must be rich in nutrients and low in fat and calories. And third, and probably most importantly, it must be delicious to eat.
Try some of these smart snacks ideas:
- Make your own trail mix. You can make a big batch of this trail mix in advance and keep it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Start with some nuts. Try peanuts, walnuts, or almonds—all good sources of protein, phosphorus, zinc, and magnesium. Throw in some dried fruit, such as cranberries, raisins, or banana chips. And finish it off with a high-fiber cereal, such as Grape Nuts, All Bran, or Raisin Bran. For a daily snack, pack about ¼ to ½ cup into a Ziploc baggie. ¼ cup trail mix = approximately 150 calories
- Dip vegetable and fruit sticks into nutty goodness. Cut up some carrot sticks, slice a few celery stalks, and cut a crisp green apple into wedges. Pack about 2 tablespoons of peanut butter or almond butter into an airtight container. When you get a chance to snack, dip away. The carrots are loaded with beta-carotene, the apple has plenty of fiber and vitamin C, and the celery provides fiber, vitamin C, and folate. Vitamins E and B6, niacin, and protein are just some of the nutrients in peanut and almond butter. 2 tablespoons peanut or almond butter = approximately 190 calories1 medium apple, 1 large carrot, 1 celery stalk = approximately 110 calories
- Add a little pizzazz to your yogurt. Start with low-fat or non-fat yogurt and stir in granola, kashi, or another high-fiber cereal. Or top off the yogurt with sliced strawberries, kiwis, or blueberries. Yogurt is a great source of calcium and protein. The cereal gives you fiber, and the fruit packs a load of vitamin C. ½ cup low-fat yogurt = approximately 100 calories¼ cup granola = approximately 100 calories¼ cup berries = approximately 20 calories
- Bake your own chips and add some dip. Making your own chips is easy. Simply cut flour or corn tortillas or whole wheat pitas into triangles and bake in the oven for 5-10 minutes at 350ºF (177ºC). Sprinkle with salt and black pepper, or kick it up a notch with cayenne pepper. Your options are just about endless when it comes to a dip. You can make your own salsa by dicing up tomatoes, garlic, onion, hot peppers, and cilantro. Squeeze a little lime and salt and pepper to taste. Store-bought salsa is great, too. Guacamole is even easier. Mash an avocado with some garlic, onion, lemon, salt, and pepper. Or try some hummus, which you can find in the deli section of your grocery store. 1 ounce baked chips (about 9 chips) = approximately 100 calories¼ cup salsa = approximately 20 calories¼ cup guacamole or hummus = approximately 100 calories
- Just say cheese. Whether you like cheddar, Swiss, or mozzarella, a serving of cheese (1-1/2 ounce) is roughly 150 calories. Cottage cheese has even fewer calories but all the great flavor. Whichever cheese you choose, you'll get a good dose of protein, calcium, and vitamin A. Dress up your cottage cheese by adding some pineapple or peach chunks. To round off your hard cheese snack, have some sliced apple or grapes. Or, put cheese on whole-grain crackers. You can find most cheeses in reduced-fat versions. 1-½ ounces of cheddar, Swiss, or mozzarella = approximately 150 calories1 cup 1% fat cottage cheese = approximately 160 calories10 whole wheat crackers = approximately 100 calories½ cup grapes = approximately 50 calories
There are other snacking options out there. Just find the snacks that work for you. But keep it smart—make sure your choices are nutritionally dense, low in calories, and tasty.