Healthy Snacking

Janis Hunter
Home & Garden Information Center

Planned snacks help you stay committed to a healthy diet. If you made a New Year’s resolution to improve your health by losing weight, then you should plan nutrient-rich snacks that balance out your daily menus and provide the most nutrition from calories consumed.

What is a snack? A snack is any food or drink consumed between meals. It should be smaller than a regular meal but satisfying enough to “tide” you over until the next meal without spoiling your appetite. A snack should be low in fat, sodium, cholesterol, added sugars and alcohol yet tasty and eye-appealing. Being convenient, quick and easy to make are added bonuses.

Solid Versus Liquid Snacks: Choose a solid snack over a liquid snack, because it satisfies you longer. Research shows that people eat less food at mealtime if they consume a solid snack rather than a liquid snack with the same amount of calories.

When to Snack: To satisfy hunger without spoiling your appetite, eat or drink a small portion two to three hours before a meal. An appropriate portion size is four to six crackers or a piece of fruit. Slice the fruit to make it seem like more food.

Avoid “mindless” snacking when you are bored frustrated, stressed or just watching TV. A good alternative is to take a walk, play with your child, or do some housework or gardening.

Stock Up on Healthy Snacks: Keep a variety of tasty, nutritious snacks in your pantry, refrigerator, freezer, office desk drawer, car, and anywhere else you need to take the edge off hunger. Keep a bowl of fresh fruit on your kitchen counter. If you have a child, show them where snack foods are kept, and put items on lower shelves within easy reach so they can help themselves. Having ready-to-eat foods on hand reduces the temptation to eat unhealthy items from vending machines, convenience stores and fast food restaurants.

Vegetables and fruits are good snack choices. They are high in fiber, vitamins and minerals yet low in calories. Keep ready-to-eat items, such as fruits and cut-up, raw vegetables (e.g. broccoli, cauliflower and carrots) easily available. Limit the amount of juice you drink and always choose 100% vegetable juice and 100% unsweetened fruit juice. Most fruit “drinks,” punches and ades contain only a little juice and lots of added sugar.

Other good snack choices include low-fat ready-to-eat meats; low-fat cheeses and puddings; string cheese; yogurt; pretzels and graham crackers.

Avoid Tempting, High-Calorie Snacks: Do not buy tempting, high-calorie foods filled with fat and calories. If you occasionally must splurge on a “sometimes” snack food (e.g. cookies, candy, chips or ice cream), then store the food out of sight on a high shelf, in the back of the freezer or in some other inconvenient place.

When a vending machine snack is your only option, choose a single-serving item that is either low in fat or sugar. If you must eat something sweet, skip the candy bar and go for a small bag of peanut M&M’s because the peanuts provide a little protein.

Nutritious Snack Ideas: Here are some healthful snacks that are low in calories, added sugar and fat. All of them are smart choices from the five food groups in MyPyramid, USDA’s latest food guide pyramid. These food groups include grains, vegetables, fruits, milk, meats and beans.

  • peanut butter spread thinly on apple or banana slices
  • carrot sticks or other ready-to-eat raw veggies with low-fat dressing or tofu dip
  • a small bowl of cereal with low-fat or fat-free milk
  • a glass of fat-free regular milk or chocolate milk
  • a fruit and yogurt smoothie
  • a fortified cereal bar
  • a frozen fruit bar
  • a cup of canned fruit packed in unsweetened juice
  • whole-wheat crackers with bean dip
  • hummus (chickpea dip) and pita bread
  • salsa and baked tortilla chips
  • an ounce of lean deli meat
  • a hard-cooked egg
  • ¼ cup of nuts

For more healthy snacking tips, refer to HGIC 4203, Planning for Snacks.

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