When you hear the word snack many things come to mind. To some people a snack is a sweet indulgence. Others hear the word snack and think of a salty or savory treat between meals. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics defines snacks as foods and caloric beverages consumed between regular meals. Snacks are often viewed negatively because they can provide extra calories to a diet. However, when planned correctly, snacks can have positive nutritional benefits.
The first step in selecting snacks is to use the MyPlate food groups. MyPlate can serve as a guide to choose healthy foods while helping you avoid sources of empty calories and added sugar. Healthy snacks usually include foods from two or more food groups. It is important to keep a supply of healthy foods in the kitchen. This will make it easier to choose a nutritious snack. When shopping for snack food, avoid adding foods high in added sugar, salt and fat to the grocery cart. Instead, the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends you have on hand whole fruits, washed and cut-up raw vegetables, low-fat or fat-free yogurt and milk, low-sodium cottage cheese, low-fat cheese, string cheese, lean deli meats, hummus or salsa, frozen fruit juice bars, whole grain crackers, pita bread, dried fruits, nuts and nut butters.
Most children cannot get enough nutrients from three meals a day. Snacks can help young children get the nutrients needed to grow. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, active teens may need the extra calories and nutrients that snacks supply. For adults, snacks can give an extra supply of energy to relieve afternoon hunger.
Colorful vegetables make an appealing low-fat snack that is easy to prepare. Simply cut raw vegetables into bite-size portions and serve plain or with a low-fat dip or cottage cheese. A variety of vegetables can be served as snacks including broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, mushrooms, radishes, summer squash and bell peppers. To avoid the danger of choking, steam or microwave any hard vegetables before you serve them to toddlers and cut them into small pieces.
Water, 100% fruit juice, or milk are great snack beverages. But don’t overdo the juice, even if it is 100% juice. When possible, serve whole fruit and water instead of juice.
To control calories, look for healthy alternatives to high fat, high calorie snacks. For example, instead of potato chips choose rice cakes or pretzels. Have a low-fat granola bar instead of cookies or have fruit-flavored water instead of soda.
Snacks should not replace meals, so keep portion sizes reasonable. To keep portion sizes in check, put your snack on a plate or dish instead of eating from the package. This will also help you know how much you have consumed. Many snack foods also come in single-serve containers that help with portion control. Or, you can portion out your snacks beforehand.
People eat snacks for a variety of reasons. Some eat snacks because they are hungry. Some people eat snacks when they are bored, tired or stressed. Snacking because of boredom or for emotional reasons can lead to weight gain. Before you take a bite, rate your hunger and avoid mindless eating.
The United States Department of Agriculture website, What’s Cooking: USDA Mixing Bowl, has a variety of simple snack recipes. Roasted Pumpkin Seed Snack Mix, a recipe from the website, is a great fall treat. This snack features whole-wheat cereal and is low in added sugars, saturated fat and sodium.
Roasted Pumpkin Seed Snack Mix
Makes: 8 ½ Cup Servings
A quick and tasty snack mix that can be tossed together and enjoyed instantly while you are on the go, no cooking required.
- 2 cups wheat cereal squares
- 1/2 cup roasted whole pumpkin seeds
- 1/3 cup slivered almonds
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- 1/2 cup raisins
- Mix all ingredients together and serve.
Calories: 199, Total Fat: 11 g, Saturated Fat: 2g, Added Sugar: 4 g, Sodium: 121 mg, Total Carbohydrate: 23 g, Dietary Fiber: 2 g.