They can be part of a daily nutrition plan to get all of the nutrients you need to be healthy. They can also derail diet plans if a bite of this and sip of that puts you over your limit. So as you pop into convenience stores while you’re out and about or linger longingly near the candy display at the supermarket check out counter, think before you succumb to a snack attack.
When snacks are good
Snacks should be considered mini-meals with a mix of nutrients that includes whole grain or high fiber foods and some lean protein. Here are some healthy grab and go snack ideas:
• Small oatmeal raisin cookie with a small carton of fat free or 1 percent milk.
• A few pieces of dried fruit such as prunes, apricots or raisins with a small carton of lowfat yogurt.
• A couple of packaged cheese sticks (Colby, cheddar, reduced fat if available) with whole grain crackers.
• Fresh apple slices or celery sticks with peanut butter.
• Make-your-own lettuce wraps — a slice of turkey or leftover chicken wrapped in a romaine lettuce leaf.
• Hard boiled egg with a couple of carrot sticks.
Snacks can be a great opportunity to sneak in the needed number of servings of fruits and vegetables per day. A bunch of grapes and a handful of nuts make a great snack while driving on a long car trip or during an unexpectedly long commute home. The fruit is not only a source of vitamins, minerals and fiber, but it also contains fluids to help keep you hydrated.
When snacks aren’t good
Some folks chomp on snacks because they’re bored, not hungry, and that of course is not a good thing, especially if you’re trying to limit calories for weight management. Salty snacks can put daily sodium intake over the limit. Fried snacks can put you over your daily fat and calorie limit. Sweet snacks can spike blood sugar levels that come crashing down too fast, causing an energy crash, too. Any snack that puts you above and beyond your calorie level for the day is overkill nutritionally and you’ll see the results on the bathroom scale as the numbers go in the wrong direction! Just because that fried chicken finger choice at a fast food place is called a “snack pack” doesn’t mean it’s the right snack for you.
Best diet snacks
Snacks are not only a welcome part of a weight management plan, they can be allies in the battle. You should plan on no more than 200 calories per snack. The fiber, fluid and lean protein in small portions of foods chosen as snacks can keep your blood sugar on an even keel to help you curb hunger pangs and keep energy levels up so that you get the physical activity that you need.
Healthy snacks include combinations of fruit ( fresh, frozen, canned in juice), vegetables (fresh, cooked, in juice form) whole grains (breads, crackers, tortillas or cereals, lowfat or nonfat dairy products (glass of milk, carton of yogurt, serving of cottage cheese, slices of cheese, frozen nonfat milk desserts), nuts (a handful, not a canful), legumes (black bean dip, hummus spread) and lean protein (hard boiled egg, roast beef, turkey, smoked salmon).
Look for products that are portion controlled for you, such as small packets of nuts, applesauce and yogurts. Look for whole grain products with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.
Look for frozen dessert products with less than 100 calories per serving.
Children need snacks. Depending on the age, they just seem to do better with smaller meals spread throughout the day. So, again, think of snacks as mini meals and great opportunities to deliver needed nutrients. Junk foods are often defined as foods that don’t deliver any nutrients, just fat, sugar and calories. So since tiny tummies have room for only so much food, why fill them up with junk foods’ empty calories? Now, there’s nothing wrong with cookies, crackers, chips and even the occasional candy. But choose versions that sneak in needed nutrients such as oatmeal raisin cookies (fiber), whole grain pita chips or other crackers (fiber, and whole grain nutrients). Dipping fruit into chocolate sauce such as strawberries, chunks of pineapple or banana is preferred over chocolate bars. Also, some fast food places offer cut up fruit to go. It’s a treat that delivers vitamins, minerals and phyto nutrients (plant nutrients) that help children’s bodies and minds develop.
Need snacks in the car?
Easy-to-peel-and-eat Clementine oranges are in season right now and the perfect size for kids. How about slightly sweet tasting grape tomatoes (just like fresh grapes, cut these in half for kids under age 3 to prevent choking) or those fresh carrot chips? Offer with lowfat ranch dressing or hummus (chickpea spread) as a super after school snack that serves up many nutrients.
Beverages as snacks
Yes, beverages count! In fact, staying hydrated is vital to support good health for your body and mind. Even if you’re mildly dehydrated you can feel lethargic, irritable and it can diminish mental focus. The best liquid snacks deliver plenty of water whether they’re in the form of plain water, flavored waters, nonfat milk, unsweetened iced tea or 100 percent fruit or vegetable juices. But when liquids contain calories, remember the liquid portion of portion control. A glass of fruit juice should be 6 ounces (which counts as a fruit serving) not an 18-ounce tumbler. And of course, that 36-ounce Big Gulp cola can add up to a lot of unneeded excess sugar and calories.