Monday, July 23, 2012

How to Snack Well

With all the fairly recent hype about healthy eating, one of the most common suggestions you’ll hear is to eat 5-7 small meals throughout the day, rather than relying on 3 large, heavy meals. Essentially, the idea is to eat three smaller “meals” (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) separated by at least two bouts of serious snacking. The reason for this method of eating is to keep your metabolism working throughout the day, instead of letting it sit idly by, storing unwanted fat, in between having to work overtime processing a huge meal every 5 or 6 hours. Makes sense, right? Well, one problem with this theory that I’ve come to notice is that it is very hard to find a large variety of snack suggestions out there (or they’re not as well advertised as they should be) that aren’t full of unnecessary sugars, fats, and other ingredients that knock your healthy habits back a step or two. I know it’s nearly impossible to compile a fully comprehensive list of every snack suggestion available, but I thought I’d at least offer a little assistance to boost your healthy decision-making skills. Let me know if I miss anything!

1. Don’t buy something that’s bad for you. This goes along with the general idea of, “out of sight, out of mind.” You can’t eat something you don’t have, so why tempt yourself? Make sure you account for healthy snacks when you plan out your grocery list and don’t deviate! Write down delicious foods that fuel your body and that you know you’ll enjoy, and keep on walking when you see the “Cookies and Crackers” aisle at the store.

2. Don’t distract yourself. Just as you shouldn’t eat dinner while watching TV, you shouldn’t snack while reading, watching Real Housewives, surfing the net, or talking on the phone. You should be 100% conscious of what you’re putting in your mouth at all times. This way, you’re completely aware of the signals your stomach is giving your brain and you’ll know when to stop, instead of being distracted while you eat, which causes you to consume too much. It’s easy to fall into the habit of mindless snacking, especially because you’re not eating a full meal, so “a couple more chips won’t hurt, right?” Hold yourself back and savor the amount of food you are eating, rather than concentrating on something else instead.

3. Plan your snacks too. Do you plan your meals for the day when you get up in the morning, or do you just kind of wing it? If you’re one of the “wing it” folks, I’m going to take a guess that you probably grab the most convenient and tasty food to eat for snacks, yes? I used to do this all the time, but do you know what helped me stop? I started planning out my foods each day. Instead of eating what sounded good right then and there, which often led me to make unhealthy choices, I began deciding everything I would eat after I woke up in the morning. A brief example would be: a bowl of oatmeal with almond butter and dates for breakfast, 2 plums for a mid-morning snack, a veggie wrap (hummus, lettuce, tomato, avocado, pickles on a whole wheat tortilla) and an apple with almond/peanut butter for lunch, carrot sticks dipped in hummus for mid-afternoon snack, and kale pesto with spinach penne pasta for dinner followed by a bowl of cherries for dessert. You don’t have to get that detailed when you first start planning your day’s food, but try and make sure you at least have an idea of what you’re going to eat throughout the day. This helps you avoid reaching for a bag of chips in the afternoon or a stack of Oreos after dinner.

4. Pack the night before. If you’re not going to be home all day, snacking becomes a little harder, particularly if your only choices at work or school come from a vending machine. Therefore, why not make it easy on yourself? Before you go to bed at night, pack a plastic container or two with your snacks for the next day. This way, all you have to do is grab them and go when you’re headed out the door in the morning! You can also use this method for your lunch, if you don’t get to go home or have limited options for a healthy mid-day meal.

5. Don’t eat from the bag. I’m sure you’ve heard this one before, but I’m going to reiterate it once more: you’ll eat less if you fill a bowl with cherries than if you eat them straight from the packaging they came in. A similar concept is usually suggested for eating your meals on smaller dishes rather than hugely oversized plates and bowls. You can trick your mind into accepting the portions before you, and you’ll end up not overeating! It’s very easy to eat too much when every time you put your hand back in the bag, there’s still food in it. Next time you have some trail mix, for example, pour it into a small bowl and see if you end up eating less than usual.

6. Listen to your cravings. Sometimes it’s okay to change your meal plan for the day. If you had planned to eat some broccoli as a mid-afternoon snack, but 3:00 rolls around and you really want some cashews instead, have some cashews! Usually a craving is your body’s way of letting you know it needs a certain vitamin or mineral that’s found in that food you really want. As long as you’re not replacing grapes with cake or whole grain crackers with greasy potato chips, you shouldn’t be afraid to branch out from your day’s plan a little.

7. Only eat if you’re hungry. When all is said and done, even if you have every bit of food you're going to consume planned out, it all comes down to listening to your body. If you’re not hungry, don’t eat. There’s no reason to feel guilty or like you’re cheating your body by not eating a snack today. If you ate a larger lunch than you’re used to, or your breakfast has kept you full throughout the morning, it’s okay not to eat a snack that day. You obviously shouldn’t starve yourself, but you also shouldn’t force yourself to eat if you aren’t hungry. That being said…

8. Know what “hungry” means. Many times, people confuse hunger and thirst. If you’ve been eating a healthy amount of meals with decent portions, but somehow you feel like you’re starving at 2pm one day, try drinking some water before you reach for a granola bar. The sensation of being hungry is often felt when we’re actually dehydrated, so just drinking a glass or two of water might make you feel better without forcing you to eat more than you need. Another thing to keep in mind is, if you start to get those sharp hunger pains in your abdomen, you’ve gone too long without eating. When that happens, your body is going into “starvation mode,” so whatever you eat will likely be stored immediately as fat. To avoid this scenario, the signal I like to look for is when my stomach feels empty but not in pain – that’s typically when I know I’m actually hungry.

To conclude, I’ll leave you with a list of healthy snacks I typically eat on a daily basis. You can always tailor these to your needs or preferences; so don’t feel obligated to follow my list exclusively. I hope these tips help you explore snacking in a healthy way. Let me know if you have a suggestion I forgot to mention!

My Typical Snacks:
  • an apple, sliced into chunks, served with nut butter
  • a peach
  • a pear
  • 1 medium (or 2 small) plums
  • 1 cup cherries
  • a handful of baby carrots, sometimes dipped in hummus
  • 1-2 stalks celery, served with nut butter
  • 1 cup of homemade trail mix with almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds, raisins, and dried cranberries
  • 1 cup of store-bought trail mix (if you don’t buy in bulk, make sure you read the ingredient label to avoid excess sugar and sodium especially)
  • a handful of whole grain crackers (homemade or a brand like Kashi is good)
  • a banana
  •  2 slices of homemade bread (banana, pumpkin, zucchini, etc.)
  •  3-4 dried, pitted dates
  • 1 cup strawberries
  •  about 1/2 cup raw, unsalted cashews, almonds, or peanuts
  • 1 homemade breakfast bar, like my Cherry Date Breakfast Bars (if you buy granola/energy bars pre-packaged, make sure you read the ingredient label!)
  • 1/2 tomato, sliced, with a pinch of salt sprinkled on top
  • 1 slice of bread, toasted, topped with 1/2 an avocado
  • a cup of yogurt (non-dairy for me) with a handful of berries tossed in
  • 3-4 lettuce wraps (1 wrap is: sliced tomato, sliced avocado, and a pickle or two, wrapped in a leaf of lettuce, usually with a bit of hummus spread on the bottom)


  1. Great info!! Mom & Dad

  2. Great tips! I especially agree with the last one... drink water!!! So many people are dehydrated without even knowing it.

    I just read your About page and my sister graduated from NCSA too! She graduated from their high school ballet program in 2010. It is a great school so you must be a talented musician and composer!

    Oh and we have the same camera. And both like to bake. Fate? Yes.

    1. Right?! One of the most universal tips that I think everyone should follow is the water one... so many problems can be fixed just by drinking more water!

      Wow, what a small world!! I absolutely loved NCSA! It really is a marvelous school, and I met SO many creative people there it's not even funny.

      Umm... yeah, definitely fate. I'm pretty sure we were separated at birth. ;) Love it!!

      P.S. I'm totally adding you to my blogroll, because you rock.