This article was contributed by Debbie M., MS, RD –
It’s not just the kids and teachers heading back to school that need to pay attention and make sure that they are eating healthy snacks during the day. Many people are grabbing the wrong things to manage hunger outside of mealtimes.
Snack noun ˈsnak : a small amount of food eaten between meals
Look at the definition of “snack” above and you’ll see that volume and timing are mentioned, not content. No wonder so many people are clueless about what to snack on! Read on to find out what to pack in your work, school or gym bag.
Snacks only need to comprise 1-3 elements: a balance of protein, carbohydrates and fat — the 3 macronutrients. This is much less than the 4-5 elements food groups required for a square meal. This is because protein slows digestion, carbohydrates provide fuel and fat is satisfying. Having all three present in your snack means stable energy until the next meal, which means you have chosen and “A+” snack.
You can start with any one food group you like – fruit, starch, meats, vegetables, dairy or fat. Then add another item that fills any macronutrient gaps. Some things, like soybeans (edamame) or low-fat fruited Greek yogurt don’t need this macronutrient pairing because they are well-balanced by themselves. Here are some great examples of combinations that make the grade:
- Oranges + peanuts
- Wheat crackers + tuna salad
- Half a turkey sandwich with avocado
- Hard cooked egg + pretzels
- Celery and carrot sticks + hummus
- V-8 juice + string cheese
- Cottage cheese + pineapple
- Low-fat milk + protein powder
- Almonds + banana
If you’ve forgotten your homework and didn’t pack a snack, you can still grab a small 1-2 ounce protein bar from a convenience store, a cup of soup from a deli counter, or a single street taco at a fast-casual restaurant. As a last resort from a drive through (detention for you!), select a snack wrap or fruit and yogurt parfait.
Don’t forget that portion matters! Keep it small, which is about a handful total to give a visual idea of a proper portion. This is about one cup. If you want to look at it from the perspective of calories, then somewhere in the 100-200 calorie range for women and 150-300 calorie range for men is suitable.
- True, sugar and caffeine give you energy, but only temporarily. Sorry, candy bars and coffee get a failing grade here!
- You can’t eat what you don’t have. So shop and prepare options in advance.
- Convenience and portability matter. A shelf-stable package or individually portioned container can make the difference of a snack eaten instead of skipped. Skipping a snack could lead to overeating later in the day.
- Snacks are a great time to fit in some elements that you don’t get at your meals. Perhaps some vegetables or a serving of dairy?
- Let hunger be your guide. Waiting until you’re “starving” means going straight for the junk. On the flip side, don’t force yourself to eat just because “it’s time.”
RECESS! Timing is important to the concept of snacking. Ideally, a snack would fit in the midpoint of the break between meals. If your meals are tightly spaced 3-4 hours apart, there may not even be a need for snacks. Conversely, you may want to increase the size of your snack if there will be an extended time before your next meal.
Now you have no excuse (though, the dog really can eat it) to have a healthy snack. Feel free to share other great snack ideas in the comments section below!
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