Note to Reporters: The following column is written by Shirley Perryman, an Extension specialist in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. The department is part of the College of Applied Human Sciences at Colorado State University.
The number of adults and adolescents who snack and the frequency of our snacking have both increased. With busy lives 87 percent of us snack throughout the day and consume about a quarter of our calories from sugary beverages and snack foods.
Unfortunately, many of us choose snacks instead of eating three sit-down, healthy meals. Some of us start our day with breakfast-to-go snacks when there isn’t time to prepare a meal before heading out the door. We may continue snacking throughout the morning, at lunch and dinner, and into the evening.
Whether you snack because you’re busy, bored, stressed, want a pick-me-up or believe it’s healthier to eat mini meals throughout the day, make those calories count toward your total for the day and contribute nutritionally to your well-being. Food manufacturers are meeting the consumer’s desire for healthier snacks with snacks that are lower in calories, higher in fiber or antioxidants.
Make a snack plan. Keep whole, fresh foods on hand. Steer clear of packaged items loaded with sugar, fat and salt. Consider these tips for healthy snacking starting in the morning:
• Pick Protein. One study showed that eating protein early in the day is more inclined to fill you up so you’re more likely to feel fuller longer. Choose dairy foods like yogurt and milk-based drinks over fruit juices and drinks. Other protein-packed snack options are a handful of nuts, a hard-boiled egg or cheese stick.
• Pick a Better Bar. If you’re fond of breakfast bars, choose one that is higher in fiber and lower in sugar and fat so that you’re not just fueling up on a candy bar in disguise. Check the nutrition label and pass on those with sugar (or its sweeter cousins such as syrup, honey and anything ending in “ose”) as the first ingredient.
• Plan Ahead. Instead of buying a baked treat at the corner coffee shop to go with your java, bake whole grain scones and muffins to tuck in the freezer. Package these breakfast options individually so they’re ready to pack in your purse, back pack or briefcase in the morning. Mixing up and baking quantity to have on hand is easy and saves money, too.
Whether snacking out of necessity, for fun or as a planned part of how you eat every day, these tips can help you snack smarter and meet your daily nutrient needs:
• Check out www.MyPlate.gov to see how to fill your plate with fruits, veggies, grains, protein and dairy for good nutrition. Then count your snacks toward food group servings to “Get Your Plate in Shape,” this month’s theme for National Nutrition Month.
• Use snacks to fill in food groups you’re less likely to eat. Yogurt can sub for milk. Fresh veggies may be more appealing as a snack than the cooked veggies at dinner to help fill half your plate with fresh produce. Whole grain crackers (read the label and look for “whole”) can help you meet the recommendation to make half your grains whole.
• Plan ahead for healthy snacking. Know where you can purchase better-for-you choices when you’re away from home. Have healthy grab-and-go choices such as fruits, veggies, whole grain crackers and peanut butter on hand. Think outside the box for variety. Snacks like hummus and whole wheat pita bread or veggies with low fat dip are a nice change.
• On occasions when an unplanned attack of the munchies is overpowering in spite of your best efforts, have on hand air popped popcorn or make a quick and filling fruit smoothie by blending low fat milk and frozen fruit.
• Spend your daily calorie budget wisely. Be aware of recommended portion sizes. If portions are large, share it with someone else or save some for later. If you have difficulty controlling the size of portions you eat, don’t eat from packages that contain multiple servings. Choose a whole piece of fruit or a packaged snack pack to control portions.