Let’s face it: we’re ALL busy. Busy at home, busy at work, busy with friends, busy with family. Busy, busy, busy! Sometimes the closest I get to three “square” meals a day are the square Tupperware containers I use to transport my meals on the run. For many of us, gone are the days of leisurely sit-down family meals with lots of time to prep, cook, eat and clean up after them.
So, what fills the gap? SNACKS! And lots of experts in the realms of nutrition, dietetics and fitness advocate for eating more frequent mini-meals (a.k.a. snacks) throughout the day as a great way to keep your metabolism up and running and to keep you from getting over-hungry between meals (and therefore stave off over-eating at those meals). And, if you’re anything like me, I can’t really go more than 3 hours without eating without getting seriously “hangry” (an angry state brought on by being hungry: hungry + angry = HANGRY). Snacks are my anger (and hunger) management solution!
This post is dedicated to bringing you guidelines, tips, tricks and suggestions for healthy snack options at home and on the go! I’ll start with a host of healthy snack suggestions then you can choose to read on for some of the science behind healthy snacking. This will kick-start your learning to help you determine satisfying, nutritious and delicious snacks on your own!
Healthy Snack Suggestions
Of course by now you’ve checked out my Nutritious Noshes but for even more ideas, especially quick, convenient items, here are some of my go-to snacks. These are all items that you should be able to easily get in your local convenience or grocery store or even in the snack selection of a gas station, so there’s no excuse for poor eating during road trips (other than that it can be fun sometimes!):
- A small handful of dried fruit and nuts (remember, the nutrients in dried fruit are more concentrated than in fresh fruit and so are the calories, so the portion sizes are smaller. Nuts are also very nutrient-dense so remember that a little goes a long way: a “serving” of nuts is often no more than 10-15 nuts!). Remember to check for (and avoid) added sugar on dried fruit labels – dried fruit is naturally sweet on its own and shouldn’t need added sugar or preservatives! Even gas stations regularly stock small packets of trail mix – look for those that are unsalted and/or don’t contain added sugar.
- A serving of Greek yogurt (lots of brands package these in single servings for an easy grab-and-go option) with chopped fresh fruit and/or berries and a sprinkle of granola or chopped nuts. Where possible, choose plain Greek yogurt to avoid added refined sugars – use the fresh fruit/berries or a tsp of honey or maple syrup to add natural sweetness, instead. If it’s still too bitter for your taste (and your taste buds will adapt over time!), try adding a few drops of liquid Stevia sweetener. My favourite flavour is English Toffee: it makes my Greek yogurt taste like butterscotch pudding!
- Sliced fresh fruit and/or berries and a few slices of cheese (even a prepackaged “Cheese string” is a good portion-controlled choice! Individually wrapped Babybel cheeses are also a great option).
- Whole-grain crackers (check the package for a serving size) with a few slices of cheese OR spread with your favourite nut butter (where possible, pick “natural” nut and peanut butters with no added oils, sugars and preservatives – these are the kind that separate with the oil rising to the top – don’t worry, stirring the oil back in is a great exercise for your forearms!). Even a “Handi-snack” cheese and cracker snack will do in a pinch, but keep in mind that these and other processed snacks are generally higher in fat and sodium. The crackers in these snacks are also NOT whole-grain. Round it out with a piece of fresh fruit.
- Speaking of nut or peanut butters, try spreading a tbsp on your favourite fresh sliced fruit or vegetables (celery stalks are great holders – “ants on a log,” anyone?).
- A small tub of hummus with vegetable spears (carrots, bell peppers, cucumbers, celery, etc.) and/or wholegrain pita pieces for dipping.
- A hard-boiled egg (or two) with vegetable spears or sliced fresh fruit (unless you’ve been advised to avoid egg yolks by your trusted health professional, eat the egg yolk too for a boost of healthy fat to make this a balanced snack).
- A single serving packet of plain instant oatmeal (the flavoured varieties contain added sugar and artificial flavour) mixed with hot water from a kettle or coffee maker can pair with yogurt or a dollop of nut butter and fruit or berries.
- A slice of whole-grain bread or half a whole-grain wrap spread with nut butter or smashed avocado and sliced fruit and/or vegetables.
- A healthy home-baked good OR half a commercially-baked good (opt for whole-grain and fruit options). If it’s “low-fat,” add a spoonful of nut butter or a small handful of nuts to slow the release of energy.
- A commercially-prepared “protein” “snack” or “energy” bar (we all know I love my Quest Bars) – check the packaging carefully. You’re looking to avoid added sugars, artificial colours, flavours and preservatives. The fewer the ingredients and the more of them that you can actually recognize and pronounce, generally the better the bar is for you. The bar should provide between 150-250 calories with the energy coming from a mixture of protein, fat and carbohydrates to ensure the bar will provide satiety and a steady release of energy.
- Since snacks are “mini-meals,” also consider having smaller portions of your “regular” meals as a snack: a small bowl of whole-grain cereal topped with dairy or non-dairy milk (I love mixing some chocolate protein powder into my milk and pouring it on my cereal – I can’t say no to chocolate at breakfast AND the added protein increases the satiety of the cereal); half a sandwich or wrap (choose whole-grain bread/wraps, unprocessed meat and lots of fresh vegetables); a small serving of last night’s healthy supper; a small bowl of soup or a side salad with a small baked chicken breast; etc.
- Your favourite “treat” food should also feature on a regular basis in your snacks. No matter what your health and wellness goals (weight-loss, athletic performance, etc.) I firmly believe that there is no such thing as an inappropriate food choice, just an inappropriate portion choice. Indulging in an appropriate serving of your favourite “treats” from time-to-time, especially when you are craving them (cravings DO have a reason for them!) means that you are far less likely to over-indulge in the same item later. If your current diet plan restricts or completely eliminates these foods, how likely is it to be healthy, enjoyable and sustainable in the long-term?
There! I hope this “baker’s dozen” list gives you a good starting point for healthy snacking. You could stop reading right there OR you can plunge ahead to my next post and learn a little bit more about WHY these are good-for-you options.