Successful Snacking

The headline “7 Habits of Highly Successful Snackers” from RealSimple.com caught my attention today. I chuckled at the reference to self-help guru Franklin Covey’s famous work (though “7 habits of highly annoying people” makes me laugh harder) then decided to share my take on tips for successful snacking.

I often lament the way our culture intertwines junk food and snacks as well as how the phrase “healthy snacks” conjures images of a plain apple or celery sticks dipped in low fat dressing or some other “diet food.” Now don’t get me wrong, a crisp juicy apple plucked from a tree or a bin at an autumn farmer’s market is something to be savored. Conversely, a wax-coated mealy apple in the spring or summer taken along because it’s “healthy” fits into my doomed-to-fail-diet category.  The truth is, good snacking habits can really help you manage your weight (and health) and improve your overall diet.

  1. Ditch the idea that snacking is just for kids. The word ‘snack’ sounds like the word ‘sneak’ and too often adults are embarrassed to admit they need one. While the strategy of eating several mini meals throughout the day rather than three squares appeals to some busy people, it’s not always practical. A well-timed, quick and nutritious (but tasty) snack can help you eat less at mealtime and feel more energetic throughout the day.
  2. Save the bars for times you can’t get real food. The idea of jamming nutrients into a bar that you can stick in your pocket, purse, car or desk drawer is great. Bars beat the heck out of going too long without eating and getting crabby, distracted or arriving ravenous at your next meal. But bars aren’t magic – no matter how many vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, amino acids, or other alluring ingredients they contain. Also, we get used to a certain volume of food each day so a bar may pack as many (or more) calories as a banana spread with peanut butter but not be as satisfying or keep you sated for as long.
  3. Mix your macronutrients. A combo of carbohydrates (preferably high fiber choices like veggies, fruit, whole grain crackers or bread), protein, and “good fats” (nuts, seeds or butters made from them, avocados) makes snacks taste good and keeps you satisfied longer. Some foods like nuts, beans (hummus, edamame, bean salsa) and yogurt already combine protein, carbs and fat so these can be good, easy snacks all by themselves or good companions for veggies and fruit.
  4. Use snacks to eat more veggies and fruit – an make them delicious. You know there are many benefits to eating more plant foods. You also know that knowledge alone doesn’t change your habits. Piling on veggies (or fruit) at meals is great but isn’t always an option. Plus, snacks are a more realistic way to reach the ideal 9-11 servings (a serving is 1 cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked) each day. Turns out there are many delicious snack ideas for fruits and veggies – just Google “fun” or “delicious” fruit and vegetables and you’ll find pages of ideas.
  5. Don’t just drink your snacks. Your brain doesn’t recognize calories you drink the way it registers calories you chew. Even if a liquid snack is filling when you drink it, it may not stave off hunger pangs later the way an equal number of calories from food does. If drinking your snacks fits your schedule, lifestyle, budget, and taste buds but doesn’t stick with you long enough try drinking half your usual amount and supplement your beverage with a handful of nuts, a piece of fruit or something you need to chew.
  6. Timing is everything. Sometimes concerns about weight and health make us lose sight of the bigger picture – food is fuel. If you are busy and/or active throughout the day, that is when you need food most. People who eat more of their calories earlier in the day have an easier time managing their weight. Also, if you eat before your blood sugar dips you may prevent mood swings and improve concentration.
  7. Manage your expectations. Our quest for perfection can lead to all-or-nothing thinking…especially when it comes to changing dietary habits for health. One of my favorite mantras is “progress not perfection.” Sometimes hunger strikes when you’re not prepared, your next meal is hours away and your snack choices are less than ideal. Make the best choice you can – sometimes this means eating less than usual amounts of a suboptimal food and that is okay. As you learn and practice new skills related to better snacking you may make choices that don’t work or don’t taste good to you. Relax – that is part of learning something new. The more you practice the better you’ll get and the easier healthy, satisfying snacking will be!
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One Response to “Successful Snacking”

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