For keiki of all ages!
Snacking seems to be a part of life these days. Everywhere we go, food is available; at the gas station, at the workplace, or in strategically-placed vending machines in all kinds of retail establishments. Even picking up a movie is no longer just a decision about which to choose but what snacks to buy as well, with special food coupons and incentives offered by video outlets.
Snacks can add lots of calories, sugar, salt, bad fats, and very little good nutrition to your diet. In fact, most snacks available in the places described above are likely to be the biggest culprits in the empty-calorie department.
Recent research at Yale University suggests that what we eat is mostly guided by our eyes rather than our stomachs.
This is part of the problem of what is now termed "the biogenic environment". Every time we go out we are literally staring at a host of less-than-optimal nutrition choices. However, if we plan ahead a little and keep healthy alternatives in reach, we are less likely to succumb to these spur-of-the-moment bad choices.
Snacks can contribute positively to health.
Especially for young children, who can only eat small amounts at a time, a between-meal snack is very appropriate. For some folks, a small healthy snack is going to be helpful in keeping their appetites under control so that they eat in a more controlled fashion at their next meal.
When is it time to have a snack?
Imagine a 0-10 scale where 0 is very hungry and 10 is Thanksgiving Full. The idea here is to keep you hunger-to-fullness quotient in the 3-6 range. When we don’t allow ourselves to become too hungry, then we are less likely to indulge in undesirable foods or overeat at the next meal to compensate for that “starved feeling”. Many people I counsel don’t take the time to eat all day and then spend the entire night, from when they get home until they go to bed, eating. This is a very bad way to go, as you are taking in most of your calories right when your metabolism slows down.
So if you do snack and are watching your weight, ensure that your choices fit in with your total calorie plan. One good rule of thumb is to make at least 50% of any snack a fruit or vegetable. This way, you can improve the health value of the whole snack by getting more nutrients and fiber as well as reducing the total calories.
There are many vegetables and fruits available at the supermarket ready to eat. Some come naturally in bite-sized portions like grapes, cherry or grape tomatoes, radishes, berries, baby peppers, sugar snap or snow peas. Others need minimal preparation like washing and cutting up or boiling, like edamame (soybeans).
Use snack time as an opportunity to introduce keikis of any age to some new vegetables or fruit.
One fun activity you can do this summer is to see how many different fruits and vegetables you can taste for each letter of the alphabet! Keep a journal and award prizes for the biggest tasters.
When the summer weather arrives, try making popsicles out of 100% fruit juice with bits of fruit added. If you don’t have Popsicle makers, paper cups with a straw inserted can work too! Frozen grapes or berries are a great alternative to sugary popsicles. Yogurts that come in a tube can be frozen as well and enjoyed on a hot day. However, some of these can be quite high in sugar. Make a parfait with fresh or frozen fruit, plain yogurt and some cereal.
What about drinks?
Drinks can be a source of lots of calories, sugar and sometimes fat (especially those iced coffee drinks) and don’t affect your feeling of satiety (fullness).
That means unless you are careful, they can be a big source of added calories to your normal day’s intake. In fact, the explosion in soda intake is often thought to be related to the increase in obesity.
Here are some ideas that are either very low calorie or have the benefit of fiber, which does help to you to feel full:
Smoothies made from frozen berries or other fruits with some low fat milk, soymilk or yogurt can be a delicious cool treat and much healthier and cheaper than the store bought kind. This is a great way to use up excess bananas. Simply peel and cut up ripe bananas, place in a plastic container or bag, and freeze. You can add these directly to your blender.
Watermelon blended with some ice makes a very refreshing drink!
Make your own iced tea, black, green or herbal, by simply putting the teabags in a glass jar in the refrigerator. The tea will be ready at any time you are thirsty. You can add lemon or orange slices, mint, fresh fruit like pineapple or lilikoi for extra flavor, or a splash of juice if you want a sweeter taste.
Mix a “tot” of juice with sparkling water for a fun and festive drink.
You will save lots of dollars and calories by making this homemade version as the bottled drinks—besides being expensive—usually have lots of high fructose corn syrup and other additives.
Other snack ideas:
Individually wrapped cheeses. These can be conveniently carried around, and as they are pre-portioned, the calories are controlled if you stick to one!
A hard boiled egg is a good option for a high protein snack. It is easy to boil a few at a time and have them ready to go.
Hummus is a Middle Eastern garbanzo bean dip that is a good source of fiber. It is readily available in most markets and often comes in different flavors. If you want to reduce the fat and increase the fiber content, you can blend in an extra can of drained garbanzo beans and spice it up with some cumin. Spread it on a whole wheat tortilla with some shredded vegetables and roll it up as a tasty wrap for a snack or meal.
Peanut (or other) nut butter is a source of good fats and fiber and can be spread on celery. With raisins added it becomes “bugs on a log”. Nut butter is also good with cut up apple or spread on whole bread. Try to find the purest kind you can without any hydrogenated fats.
Nuts, preferably unfrosted and unsalted are also a good snack. However be mindful of the calories which are anywhere from 6-10 per nut. It is best to portion out no more than 1/4c rather then eating directly from the jar.
Cereals, particularly those that are high in fiber (3gms or more) and low in sugar(less than 8gms) per serving are also good snacks.
Crackers, if they are whole grain and not too salty or fatty can be good too. Again, it is best to take out a few ahead of time rather than eating from the box.
Carry a cooler if you are going to be in the car for a long time so your snacks stay fresh and cool.
Try to be mindful of the amount of packaging involved in your snack. Some of the easy-to-prepare homemade versions listed above will save dollars, your health, and the planet too!
By Vivienne Aronowitz M.P.H., R.D.
This article is funded by the Five Mountains LiveWell program.