Snacks do more than tame hunger – they provide nourishment for your body. Learn to build balanced, healthy snacks, plus some smart snack ideas for everyday eating.
What comes to mind when you hear the word snack?
Do visions of crackers, chips or pretzels fill your head? Or, maybe you think about nuts, beef jerky or a piece of raw fruit.
Snacks, or mini-meals as I prefer to call them, play an important role in your daily meal plan. Not only do they help tame hunger between meals, they also contribute to your daily intake of vitamins, minerals and fiber. That is, if you choose the right foods.
According to a recent Nielsen survey, the sale of snack foods are booming worldwide, with Europe taking the lead in dollars spent. The dollar number alone doesn’t paint the whole picture, though. Consumers might be spending more, but they are not necessarily buying more. Consumers are paying more for their snacks.
The study didn’t dive into why. It could be a demand for higher quality food, or a greater focus on health. Taste likely plays a role, as does the desire for convenience foods? Whatever the reason, it’s clear that consumers love their snacks.
What Does A Healthy Snack Look Like?
If you’re going to snack, it’s important to make one worth consuming. That means, it provides a benefit to your body – not just empty calories. Use the following as a guide.
Choose at Least Two Macronutrients
A balanced snack should include at least two, preferably three, of the macronutrient’s carbohydrates, protein and fat. Carbohydrates, proteins and fats are all important, but they all have different roles in the body. Carbohydrates provide fuel, not only for working muscles but also for your brain. Proteins provide the amino acids needed for the structure, function and regulation of the body’s tissues and organs, but it also helps you to stay full until your next meal. The body needs a certain amount of fat to function, but as part of a snack, a small amount provides flavor and helps to keep you satisfied until your next meal. Trying to pair a protein food with a carbohydrate is a big step in smart snacking.
Load up on Micronutrients
Snacks should contribute a decent dose of vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients. In fact, for children, older adults and those of you following lower calorie meal plans, it’s almost impossible to meet your daily nutrient requirements eating three meals alone. High-quality snack foods are needed to meet your daily nutritional recommendations. When building a snack, think about how it is contributing to your growth, development, health and hunger. Not just your hunger or boredom.
Keep it Portion Controlled
Keep the size of your snacks between 200-400 calories – depending on your specific needs and goals. If you need fewer calories, don’t eliminate a food group, just decrease the portion size of the snack so that you still get a good variety of nutrients. For example, someone that needs fewer calories might have ½ turkey sandwich and ½ banana as their afternoon snack while someone who needs more would eat a whole turkey sandwich and a whole banana. Or, someone sticking to a lower- calorie meal plan might choose reduced-calorie bread, while someone who needs more calories could choose a heartier variety.
Five Smart Snacks For Everyday Eating
To get you started on building healthy snacks, I’m sharing some ideas below.
The bread is the carbohydrate, the meat is the protein, and if you load on the vegetables, you increase the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients even more. Here’s a recipe for a ~300 calorie turkey and swiss – a perfect balanced snack for between meals.
Cottage Cheese Parfait
Granola and fruit are the carbohydrate, and the cottage cheese is the protein. But, it doesn’t stop there. Cottage cheese pairs well with a lot of foods, making it easy to build healthy snacks. Check out these five delicious ways to eat cottage cheese.
Most trail mix recipes don’t make the cut for a balanced snack because the fat content can be so high. But, made right, it definitely makes a great snack. My trail mix recipe is made with balanced eating in mind – with the protein, carbohydrate and fat content in the ratio you want to fuel your mid-day hunger.
A smoothie, built balanced, is a high-quality, nutrient rich way to fuel your hunger between meals, while also loading up on nutrients. I have lots of balanced smoothie recipes on my site to choose from, as well as a post on how to build a balanced smoothie.
Mini pizzas are a favorite in my house. Use a flour tortilla, mini bagel, single serve Naan bread or zucchini as the base, then add the sauce, cheese and toppings. Read five delicious and healthier homemade pizza options for some quick recipes.
So, tell me, what’s your favorite snack?