Three Steps to Smarter Snacking
Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD
Spend some time around kids, or your household pets, and you’ll see that frequent grazing is a pretty natural way to eat over the course of the day. Healthy snacking serves a couple of purposes. It helps you fit in foods that you might not have at mealtimes, like a serving of dairy or maybe a piece of fruit. Snacking also helps to keep your energy level up and keep you satisfied between meals, so you’ll avoid overeating when you finally do sit down. When it comes to smart snacking, there are really just three things that are key: the right foods, the right timing and the right portions.
Ideally, a healthy snack will consist of some “good” carbohydrates – like fruits, veggies or whole grains, along with some protein from low fat dairy, lean meats, soy products or nuts. Protein helps to satisfy hunger, and the healthy carbs are bulky and filling. From there, the combinations are almost endless. Some great snack combos include cottage cheese with fruit, a small bowl of whole grain cereal with milk, some hummus dip with cut up raw veggies, half of a turkey sandwich, or a small protein shake.
Timing is important, too. Hunger kicks in about every three to four hours, and if you eat more frequently during the day, you’re less likely to overdo it at mealtimes. Eating at regular intervals, rather than waiting until you’re faint with hunger, will also help you stick to your meal plan because when you get overly hungry, you’ll just grab the first thing you see. If you eat breakfast early, or if you’ve worked out in the morning, a small snack mid-morning is a good idea. The other time to work in a healthy snack is during the long stretch between lunch and dinner.
The last consideration is how much to eat. There’s a big difference between eating until your hunger goes away, and eating until you’re really full. A snack isn’t really meant to be a full meal, but it should be enough to relieve your hunger, and carry you over between mealtimes. A small snack – like a carton of yogurt, or some fruit and a handful of nuts will probably do the trick for the mid-morning, but you might need more in the afternoon so that you won’t overeat at dinner time. Some people like to have a small meal, almost like a ‘second lunch’ in the afternoon and then cut back at dinner time.
Before you dive in though, it’s usually a good idea to ask yourself if you’re really hungry. Sometimes we grab a snack when we’re bored, tired or stressed out. Planned snacks are one thing, but if you’re feeling the craving when you know you probably shouldn’t, there might be something else going on.