Most people love to snack, and though many think snacking contributes extra, empty calories to one’s diet, this does not have to be the case. Snacks are a great opportunity to pack nutrients into your diet.
It’s important to differentiate between a snack and a treat. A snack comprised of protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables tides over one’s hunger to the next meal, gives an energy boost, and provides a moderate number of calories. A treat provides many calories to one’s intake but may not be nutrient dense.
Adults may find that eating a small snack, especially in the afternoon, gives them an energy boost allowing them to work more efficiently for the rest of the day. Young kids have tiny stomachs and cannot take in the nutrients they need in just three meals. They also cannot sit and focus on a meal for very long—so snack time is recommended for toddlers and kids, and is a great chance to feed them extra nutrients.
But sometimes, snacking adds more calories to our diets than we care to admit. Try to avoid snacking while you are deciding what to snack on. All of us have stood in the pantry or in front of the refrigerator and grabbed something to munch on, racking up calories. Often we eat the equivalent of a whole snack while we decide which snack to choose. Mindlessly grabbing even healthy foods—like nuts or dried fruit—can add many calories to one’s intake and affect one’s overall weight goals. This is referred to as the “health halo.” It’s when a person opts for something healthy to eat and then figures the portion does not factor into calorie counts as greatly as it does.
Most of us are also familiar with snacking while we do something else—like letting kids snack while doing homework or while we surf the Internet. Generally speaking, unless you are eating fruit and vegetables, try to avoid snacking while doing another activity as you can lose track of how large your snacking portions are becoming.
Choosing fruits and vegetables for snacks is highly recommended. You can cut up vegetables and dip them in hummus or a low fat yogurt dip or dressing. Homemade zucchini or kale chips made with olive oil, sea salt and pepper are an easy option your kids can help you prepare. Add shredded cheese to them as well. There are many fruit snack packs now available at supermarkets with no added sugar which help add fruit to your diets.
Good whole grain options for snacks include whole grain waffles, popcorn, whole grain pretzels or tortilla chips. Adding peanut butter to whole grain waffles or offering guacamole dip for whole grain chips can add protein and healthy fats to your snack options.
Other easy high protein snack options include string cheese, Greek yogurt, or a low calorie, high protein energy bar. Greek yogurt smoothies are a great way to ingest protein and fruit. The flavor possibilities for smoothies are endless and kids can participate with this as well. Try adding a small dose of greens to smoothies, such as spinach, to add nutrients.
Bess Berger is a Registered Dietitian and practices in Teaneck. She consults and counsels on general nutrition and medically-nutrition related issues. Bess can be reached at 201 837 0546 or [email protected]
By Bess Berger, RD, CDN