You may have noticed that many of us don’t have meals anymore…
instead we tend to graze on snacks throughout the day in the car, at our desks, and in front of the tele. Americans these days are increasingly replacing sit down, three square meals for multiple snacks.
Recent government data reports the percentage of Americans who say they snack three or more times a day rose to 56% by 2010. Consumer surveys indicate 48% of Americans skipped meals at least three times a week. Is this a good or bad thing? Well, it really depends on the type of snack and the calorie density of what we are choosing. Many make the mistake of eating so many calories in a snack, it literally adds up to meal; hence they experience unintentional weight gain. Reportedly, 63% of us decide what to eat less than an hour before eating. This indicates a lot of impulse buys, which can get us into trouble with excess calories.
It seems our fast paced lives are changing the way we eat. Snacking has become a big business, as is evident in the grocery store snack aisles. Although I strongly encourage you to partake in regular sit down meals and enjoy the experience with your family, I understand that this is not always possible. So why not snack with intention rather than giving in to an impulse binge of a less than nutritious choice? Turn snacks into a positive; see them as an opportunity to improve the overall quality of your diet, as a way by adding fruits, vegetables, healthy grains, and nuts into your day.
We have a choice, to make snacking a mindless eating or to use snacks as opportunities to nourish our bodies and give us a little energy to get through our busy days. A general piece of advice: nutrient balance. Try to always combine a carbohydrate with a protein. This combination provides energy, satiety, muscle building and maintenance, and a good mood. Pick something with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving too. This simply means, go for the whole grains. Next, figure out what are the barriers or obstacles to eating healthier. Is it a temptation at work from colleagues? Is it lack of healthy foods available to you when you are on the go? Or is it simply too hard to break a habit that may not necessarily be good. A key solution to all of these reasons is, be prepared. It may take a little extra time in the morning or the night before, but it will be well worth it when you are pressed for time during the day and faced with less than healthy foods all around you. Fresh and whole foods are always best, but if you cannot buy fresh foods as snacks, then look for the least amount of ingredients in packaged foods.
Some quick and healthy go to items that pack some nutrition and not just empty calories are:
- Boiled egg and a slice of whole grain toast
- ½ a banana and a Greek yogurt (or any frozen or fresh fruit you like, like frozen blueberries)
- 1 tbsp peanut butter on half a whole wheat English muffin.
- ½ cup skim Ricotta cheese with half a pear
- A handful of nuts (almonds, pistachios, etc.) and an apple
- Leftovers from the night before, like a half whole grain sandwich with a piece of chicken
- Spread some fresh avocado on a slice of toasted whole wheat bread (top with an egg for some extra protein)
- Light tuna packed in water with a side of raw veggies, whole wheat crackers
- A glass of low fat milk with half a fruit (or maybe even a piece of dark chocolate)
- Sliced cucumbers, carrots, or half a whole wheat pita with hummus, salsa, or edamame dip
- A slice of raisin toast with some almond butter spread on top.
- Spread some non-fat Greek yogurt on half a whole grain bagel and drizzle a little honey on top
Get creative and do what works for you. Here are some examples of how to steer things into a more position direction. The point is to avoid the urge to get the donut every day when you pick up coffee on the way to work. If you have to take kids to activities and games after school and work, and you just want to go through the drive-thru to get the “chore” of dinner “over with,” take a minute and reflect on a few things. Remember children mimic what they see at home. What messages are you giving to your family and what impact may this have on their food behaviors and health? Is it possible to brown bag some sandwiches and fruit prior and have them eat before piano lessons or soccer practice begins? Avoid the munchies at work when a coworker decides to bring the dessert leftovers from her weekend party. You do this by being prepared. If you have your own go to snacks, it is much easier to stay away from calories you do not necessarily need. Keep in mind that you can burn as many calories as you like with exercise, but if you eat them back, you will not lose weight, and possibly gain.
As difficult as it may be and however pressed we are for time, preplanning meals and snacks can really help keep our weight in check and help us achieve our health and fitness goals.
Lela Iliopoulos is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator and an expert in nutrition therapy, health promotion, and education. She is passionate about impacting nutritional health through the practical application of science-based information