The term “snacking” has been distorted into something people seem to view has either a) a horrible nasty practice that makes you fat and should be avoided or b) an opportunity to eat junk food because “I’m supposed to snack right now.” Let’s set the record straight on snacking.
First of all, the most important factor with regard to how often to eat or how many meals to eat each day revolves around YOUR BODY. The world’s meatheads and trainers seem to inevitably flock to the advice of “everyone in the whole entire universe must eat 6 meals per day to be healthy.” The thing is, not everyone does well with “6 meals;” many individuals achieve health with only 3 meals per day. Some people do well with 3 small meals and 2 snacks. Others do well with 3 small meals and 3 snacks.
The key here is learning what is best for you, your lifestyle, and your health situation. I like to recommend listening to your body (aka intuitive eating), but this doesn’t always work if your body is a little messed up. For example, some individuals I’ve encountered only eat 1 meal per day because “I’m not hungry all day.” Sometimes our internal hard-wiring has been compromised for various reasons, and we lose the ability to truly recognize hunger and fullness. We sometimes feel “hungry all the time” from not eating the right stuff, not drinking enough water, and/or from the influence of certain medications. If you are only eating 1, maybe 2, meals per day, it is impossible to get adequate nutrients and preserve muscle mass. Therefore, beyond any aspect of weight loss or gain, you cannot achieve optimal health with ONLY 1-2 meals per day. Yes, even if those meals are HUGE. As a matter of fact, it would be difficult to obtain adequate nutrition especially if those 1-2 meals are huge.
Ok so, assuming you have re-learned how to listen to your body and practice more mindful eating, you are finding that you are hungry about 3-4 hours after most meals. What should you eat? Think of a snack as simply a “mini meal.” What does that mean? Well, the basic structure of a meal or snack is that it should contain fiber-rich carbohydrates, some protein-rich food, and healthy fat. Easier said than done sometimes, I know. What prompted me to write this was seeing a mom at the Target checkout asking her tiny little kiddos if they wanted a cookie as she pulled out a huge baggie full of store-bought sugar cookies. A small bit of effort is all it can take to provide ourselves and/or our littles with actual nutrient-rich fare. Am I saying you can’t have a cookie? No. But if we are using things like cookies, pretzels, or candy as our go-to snacks, we are going to fail nutritionally.
What keeps a “snack” a snack and not a meal? The size. I am an adamant non-numbers practitioner when it comes to nutrition, but IF we were counting, a snack’s caloric content would likely be in the range of less than 200-250 calories or so. But it depends on YOU. However, if you have a roast beef sandwich, chips, and a soda, that is not a snack! That is a meal! (I’ve literally had that conversation before. Hilarious.)
Here are some of my favorite healthy snack ideas:
- Triscuits and hummus.
- Whole grain crackers = fiber-rich carbohydrates
- Hummus = fiber-rich carbohydrates, healthy fat, and protein
- My favorite combo is this flavor of Triscuits with this flavor hummus, but you can try any combo that YOU find tasty.
- If you try hummus for the first time and hate it, please try another flavor or a different brand. I know I like hummus, but I’ve had some flavors that would’ve made me forgo the whole idea if I thought they all tasted like that . If at first you don’t succeed, try again (or make your own hummus because it’s rather easy).
- Raw vegetables and hummus.
- All the same rules noted above. Try carrots, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower…whatever.
- Vegetables = fiber-rich carbohydrates (albeit very little carbs)
- Hummus = fiber-rich carbohydrates, healthy fat, protein
- Fruit and cheese.
- Whole fruit = fiber-rich carbohydrates
- Cheese = although not the healthiest type of fat, but still fine; also protein
- Peanut butter sandwich.
- To qualify as a “snack,” we’d be looking toward more like half a sandwich. A full PB&J would start dipping into meal territory
- If you use 100% whole grain bread, you will have fiber-rich carbohydrates
- Natural PB (only ingredients are peanuts & salt) = healthy fat and protein
- Greek yogurt w/fruit OR granola.
- Greek yogurt (2% or whole, not fat-free) = healthyish fat, protein, and carbohydrate. The thing is, we are missing fiber; so in comes either the fruit or granola.
- Fruit or granola = fiber-rich carbohydrates.
- Trail mix.
- Nuts = healthy fats, protein, and fiber
- Dried fruit = fiber-rich carbohydrates
- M&Ms = candy. C’mon, seriously? Try to find or make trail mix that doesn’t become a glorified dessert.
The snack options listed above are simply some of my greatest hits. There are truly thousands of healthy snack combinations that you can come up with. Just follow this checklist as a basic framework, and you’ll be golden:
Eat up. See ya later.
xoxo – Casey