Looking for between-meal foods that offer a nutritional punch? Check out these tips for healthy snacking.
Snacking, grazing or eating small, frequent meals has become a way of life for many families and, if well chosen, can contribute to your daily nutrient needs.
It's a myth that snacking is bad for you or will make you fat. The truth is that it's not snacking itself that's bad, it's all the traditionally high-fat, high-calorie snack foods such as chips, candy bars, French fries, etc. that give it a bad name. With careful planning you can enjoy snacks with a high nutritional rating.
• Some studies suggest that eating frequent small meals is a better weight management strategy than eating one or two large meals. Eating healthy between-meal snacks can help keep your blood sugar levels stable and prevent you from feeling too hungry and then overeating at meals. It can also be an effective way to lower cholesterol.
• Snacking is healthy at any age but for kids there are advantages. Since children have smaller appetites and tend to eat less at a meal, eating several smaller meals throughout the day can provide them with the nutrition they need for growth, development and activity. Plus, healthy snacks ensure kids don't get so hungry that they reach for whatever is available, perhaps making less healthy food choices.
Healthy snacking strategies
• If you work long days, having a healthy late-afternoon snack may be a benefit for your productivity. Check what's available in your cafeteria or vending machines and if it's only candy or chips, bring something from home. Easy portable snacks include an energy bar, trail mix, cheese string and a piece of fruit.
• If you're going out of the office to a meeting and don't know when you'll be eating lunch, have a late-morning snack such as fruit and cheese or yogurt and a low fat muffin.
• If your evening snack turns into a long continuous meal, do some planning. Decide that you will have a healthy snack at a certain time and decide in advance what it will be. The more aware you are of your habits, the easier they are to manage.
• When buying snack foods, read labels and avoid any made with trans fats.
• Think health and nutrition when planning snacks. Choose whole grain crackers, breads or cereals instead of refined, lower fat yogurts, unbuttered popcorn or pretzels instead of chips.
• Be sure that your snack is for hunger and nutrition -- not because you are bored or stressed. If it's the latter, do an alternative activity such as going for a walk or calling a friend and then see if you are still hungry.
• If you find yourself snacking mindlessly in front of the TV, change your snacking to a different location so you can eat in awareness.
What is a healthy snack?
Snacks can be the same as small meals, with foods from the four food groups. They should include complex carbohydrates (grains, cereals, fruits or vegetables), some lean protein (low fat cheese, yogurt, lean meat, chicken, beans) and a small amount of fat. Some healthy snacks include:
• a sandwich
• a bowl of hearty vegetable or bean soup
• cheese and whole grain crackers
• yogurt with fruit and a low fat muffin
• cottage cheese with fruit
• pita crisps with a bean dip
• baby carrots with hummus
• mini pizzas made from English muffins or a whole wheat pita topped with pizza sauce and mozzarella cheese
• whole grain cereal with milk and fresh fruit
• smoothie made out of yogurt, fruit and juice
• a handful of nuts with fresh fruit
• homemade trail mix
• leftovers from last night's dinner