To snack or not to snack, that is the question. Snacking is one of those subjects that everyone has their own opinion on and I always get asked several questions on the topic. Should I snack to prevent myself from over eating? Should I skip snacking to save on calories? Should I eat several snacks a day and no meals? These are all good questions and for each person the answers vary.
The first thing to ask yourself when deciding if you should have a snack or not is, “Am I really hungry?”. If you are really hungry and it has been several hours without food, then you should definitely have a snack. However, as a society we tend to snack out of boredom, habit, or craving more than the actual need for food. You should not snack because you are having a craving for something crunchy, salty, sweet, or because you are super stressed at work. Snacks should be used to help maintain level blood glucose levels, get you to your next meal without sitting down starving and to prevent overeating and/or making a poor food choice.
Once you decide that you need a snack, you need to make sure that you are choosing a well balanced, healthy choice. Snacking on chips, sweets, and/or pre-packed processed foods are never going to be a good choice. By snacking on these empty calorie foods, you will tend to eat more, feel unsatisfied with it, and not get any good nutrients. The key to snacking is pre-planning. By taking one day out of your week (ideally the least busy) to plan out meals and snacks and making them in advance so you have them on hand for when they are needed, you will be more likely to stay on track with your healthy lifestyle and less likely to graze throughout the day. If you let yourself get to the starving stage, it makes it more difficult to make a good choice and to stop eating when satisfied and not stuffed.
When planning out your snacks, what to look for is balance; the more balanced you can make it, the more satisfied you will be with it. What I mean by balance is choose one protein source to feel full longer, one carbohydrate for energy, and ideally a vegetable for the fiber and of course the nutrients. A pre-packaged snack will never be able to give you the balance that you are looking for or could get from fresh foods. When preparing your snacks, always remember that fresh is always best when it comes to any food.
During snack time, set a time of day to stop what you are doing and eat your snack. Put your snack on a plate, take your time with eating it and enjoy what you are eating. By putting your snack on a plate, you will be able to get the visual satisfaction of cleaning your plate and you will also be more likely to stop eating when you are satisfied. When eating something out of a box, your mind will not tell you that you are satisfied as early because you do not get that visual satisfaction. Also by taking the time to enjoy and taste your food, snacks become more appealing. Take this time to also help de-stress from a crazy work day and just get away for 15 minutes.
Consuming snacks are a good thing for most people to incorporate into their daily routine, when done correctly and good choices are made. Most people’s schedules have very large times between meals, especially between lunch and dinner, by having a snack in the middle of those breaks you will be more likely to stick to your plan of a healthy meal. Snacking will also help prevent you from sitting down starving or overeating because you are eating too fast. Just remember, plan out snacks in advance, make them well balanced and pre make them to make your day easier.
Here a few ideas for snacks:
- 0% vanilla geek yogurt with added fresh berries
- Natural almond butter and raisins on celery sticks
- Low fat cottage cheese with added fresh peach slices
- Whole wheat crackers and raw carrots dipped in hummus
- Natural peanut butter on small apple or banana
- Hard-boiled egg, kale chips, and few slices of avocado
- Whole wheat crackers, goat cheese, and dried cranberries
- Dried fruit and almonds
Meaghan Edwards MS, RD/LD