Snack Smarter

Housekeeping first: we've got three lucky winners for the PopChips Giveaway! helped me select entries 19, 24, and 100: Laurel C, Kabri, and Heff (my first Facebook fan--paid off)!  Congratulations!
Thank you to all who entered; stay tuned for the next great giveaway :)

With that in mind, let's talk about smart snacking.

"Oversnacking" is something I've been struggling with recently, so I thought I'd share the principles guiding my own snacking choices going forward.

There are many components that go into snacking in a smart way, but today I'd like to focus on what I see as the two main dimensions: QUALITY and QUANTITY.  I'll give my quick advice on these, with some wise words from Michael Pollan's Food Rules: An Eater's Manual along the way.

But first, the obvious question: why snack at all?  Snacking isn't for everyone; some people get by very well on a solid three meals a day, period.  We're not all like that, though.  Some days, I do that, but other days, I find myself hungry or maybe I'm traveling or running around town and don't have time or space for a sit-down meal.  For these reasons, snacks are essential to keep our blood-sugars in check and prevent overeating at or inhaling our next meal.  They can also be a pick-me-up in the afternoon or provide energy before a workout. SO, if you do find that snacking between meals works best for your mind and body, here are my thoughts on snacking wisely by making smart food choices.

Snack Quality

Junk food: NO.
Let me get something clear: "Snacks" do NOT (and should not) mean "snack foods."  If you associate the word "snack" with things like chips, pretzels, candy... any processed food that's crunchy or chewy and comes in a crinkly package for a dollar, I beg you to rethink your snacks.  Most of these foods provide little to no nutrition and will leave you hungry again within an hour.  In fact, the refined sugars might make you crave even more of the empty stuff. So let's get that straight before moving on.

Snack Bars - a good sub.
That being said, there are some packaged snack-size foods that are better options than the rest. For example, PopChips are a great swap for greasy, fried or baked chips.  You can read my thoughts on PopChips in my PopChips review post. Other snacks or 'bars' that contain natural ingredients (ideally a very short ingredient list) provide a nice mix of protein and fiber that will actually satisfy your hunger until your next meal comes around.  Bars that combine fruit and nut are a great option, such as LaraBar, NAKD, and The Pure Bar.  (Extra credit to these, as well, for being vegan and gluten-free!) The ingredient lists often show the bare minimum, that you could make yourself without unidentifiable chemicals.  They come in all kinds of flavors, so you're bound to find something that appeals to you!

Although I wouldn't necessarily make a habit of eating these daily, they're a great option for when you're traveling or running around all day.  The packaging makes it easy to slip it into your pocket or purse to save for when you get hungry.


Real foods: YES!
Michael Pollan says to "Eat Food," and "Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food."  This includes the ingredients--nothing that a normal human (not a mad scientist) wouldn't keep in their pantry. He also says "Buy your snacks at the farmer's market," which means you'll be eating the good, natural stuff discussed below...

Just like your meals, your snacks should also ideally consist of real foods.  This is why the bars above appeal to me: they're made of real foods that I could have in my kitchen.  The best snacks are provided by nature, so think vegetables (baby carrots, sliced celery, sliced bell peppers), fruit (apples, clementines, berries... dried fruit, too, but beware of portion size, because they're high in sugar and calorie!), nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds), and even proteins (a hard-boiled egg, a few slices of turkey, a small can of tuna or salmon).

Nutrition: Carbohydrate + Protein
In order to be satisfying, your snack should have both carbs and protein.  Some of my go-to ideas:
Apple good!
Cheese ok, if you eat cheese
  • Nuts alone are great snack; they have both fiber and protein built right in--so satisfying!
  • Fruit + nut butter: Fruit alone provides the sugars, but try adding some nut butter for protein.  
  • Veggies + hummus: You could also pair some fresh vegetable slices (celery, peppers, carrots) with hummus.  
  • Greek Yogurt + berries: Another option that I often treat as dessert!  You can also add in some flaxseed or chia seeds for fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. 

Snack Quantity

Once you've selected the smart snacks, you've got to be aware of how much is enough.  For a true SNACK, try to limit the serving to between 100 - 200 calories.  (If it'll really be a while til your next meal, then you've got my blessing to go slightly over that, up to 300. But better to pick a quality snack (fiber + protein!) that will really satiate your hunger on fewer calories.)  Caveat: for non-starchy (and low-calorie) vegetables, there's practically no limit.  When you're noshing on raw carrots or peppers, you'll get full long before you've consumed 'too much.'  Some of the snacks discussed above are very calorically dense, so it's best to pay attention to your portion sizes.

  • Dried fruit is full of sugar, and because it's a whole fruit in a small bite, there are a lot of calories in only a few.  Limit dried fruit like apricots and prunes to about 5 in a serving. 
  • Nuts are dangerous. So small, so nutritious, so natural, but also so composed of fats, and even those healthy fats are still high in calorie.  Try measuring out your nuts into smaller packages so you don't go overboard without realizing.  Caroline at One Smart Brownie has a great tip for measuring out the perfect amount of almonds
    • The same goes for nut butters!  Pay attention to how much you're consuming.
  • Fruit is healthy for sure, but beware of how the sugars can leave you still feeling hungry an hour later.  This is why vegetables are the better option.  I'm guilty of turning to fruit too often because it's often easier--it's right there, pre-packaged, no slicing, dicing, or cooking necessary.  But go easy on these, and opt for low-calorie vegetables instead. 
  • Hummus is my personal kryptonite. My friends know how I go ga-ga for the stuff.  Although it's definitely a healthy-fat food, a little goals a long way.  Try measuring out 2 or 3 tablespoons of the stuff on a plate or small bowl rather than dipping directly from the container. This will raise your consciousness of how much you're actually eating.
  • Vegetables: eat to your heart's content :) 
Kale Chips - the sky's the limit

Eat on a plate, and sit down if possible
This will just help bring attention to the food you're eating.  If you've got a bag or container, pour the food out so you can see it disappear into your stomach.  Bring awareness to your snacking.

Pre-Portion Your Snacks
What I've worked on for this week's TGIM focus was portioning out my snacks in advance.  Usually, I'll grab handful after handful of nuts from a large container, never really aware of how much I'm actually eating.  One solution is to buy those 100-calorie portioned bags of dried fruit, nuts, or other goodies, but really you could save some money and do it yourself.

Pre-package your own portions!

Last Monday, I measured out a quarter-cup of almonds into snack-size bags and labeled them "M," "T," "W," "Th," and "F."  Then, when I went for a snack, I became extremely conscious of how many I was taking, whether I wanted to leave more for later, etc.  Even on the one day I dug into the next day's bag (nope, I'm not perfect), I at least took those almonds with AWARENESS, rather than mindlessly scooping handful after handful into my mouth. 

I dare you to try this technique!  It really made a difference in my awareness of my snacking habits, so I hope it can do the same for you. 

Hope you found something useful to you in this little lesson on healthy, mindful snacking!  What tips and tricks do you have for us?  How do you incorporate good eating principles into snacks?

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