(Family Features) Eating a balanced breakfast, lunch and dinner each day is an important part of maintaining a healthy diet, but what you eat between mealtimes can have just as much of an impact.
Eating a snack or two between traditional meals helps curb hunger and prevents overeating at mealtimes, provides an energy boost and can also help bridge nutrient gaps in your diet when you choose the right foods. On the other hand, consuming foods of little nutritional value out of boredom or habit can lead to eating too much and adding extra pounds to your waistline.
The key is taking a smart approach to snacking and making small shifts toward healthier choices. Consider these simple strategies to help you get started from the snacking experts at Fresh Cravings.
Snack Mindfully. It’s easy to overeat and overlook fullness cues when snacking in front of the TV or at a desk. Instead, treat snack time like you would a small meal and take a few minutes to eat in a designated area with limited distractions. Avoid eating out of boredom or stress and choose whole foods like fruits and vegetables or air-popped popcorn over processed chips, baked goods or candy.
Plan Ahead. Snacks can be a significant portion of many people’s daily caloric intake, so it’s important to include snacks when planning out your meals for the day or week. Include fruits, vegetables and proteins in your snack schedule and avoid refined starches and sugar, which are typically found in prepackaged and processed snacks. Planning and preparing snacks ahead of time can help you bypass those quick, unhealthy options and save money in the process, as well.
Make Healthy Snacking Easy. Keeping fruit, vegetables and other accessible nutritious ingredients in the refrigerator or pantry increases the chances you’ll reach for a better-for-you option when a snack craving strikes. Having staple ingredients on hand that can be paired with vegetables or whole-grain crackers like Fresh Cravings Hummus makes it easy to create healthy snacks. Made with high-quality ingredients like smooth Chilean extra-virgin olive oil, savory tahini, which is known to be a source of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, and non-GMO chickpeas, the line is available in Classic Hummus, Roasted Red Pepper and Roasted Garlic varieties and can be found in 100% recyclable packaging in the produce aisle of your local grocery store.
“Look for options that are filling and nutrient-dense,” said Mia Syn, MS, RDN, a dietitian who has helped millions learn healthier, sustainable eating habits. “My preference is Fresh Cravings Hummus because it’s a great example with whole-food ingredients like tahini, Chilean extra-virgin olive oil and non-GMO chickpeas, offering a balanced mix of filling fiber, plant-based protein and good fats.”
Combine Nutrient Groups. Each time you reach for a snack, try to include two or more macronutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrates). For example, choosing foods containing protein like low-fat cheese or nuts and pairing them with carbohydrates (whole-grain crackers, grapes) can create balanced, filling snacks. Carbohydrates help provide both your body and mind with energy while protein-rich foods break down more slowly, helping you feel full longer. Other ideas include celery and peanut butter or fruit and Greek yogurt, which are easy ways to get more low-calorie, high-fiber produce into your diet.
Pay Attention to Portion Sizes. Snacks are meant to help ward off hunger between meals, not be substitutes for meals entirely. While measuring out snacks isn’t usually necessary, having an awareness of appropriate portion sizes can be helpful. If buying or cooking in bulk, divide snacks into smaller containers when meal planning to make it convenient to simply grab an appropriate size snack and continue your day.
Pack Snacks to Go. Having grab-and-go snacks packed while out running errands, working or completing everyday tasks can help keep you on track when hunger strikes. Packing items that don’t require refrigeration like trail mix, whole-grain crackers or granola bars can keep you from stopping at a convenience store or picking an unhealthy option from a vending machine. Preparing snacks at home also gives you more control over the ingredients you’re eating to ensure you’re sticking to an eating plan that’s better for your overall health.
Set a Good Example. Parents can influence children’s snack habits by consuming healthy snacks themselves. An option like sliced veggies paired with the rich flavors of chickpeas and creaminess of tahini found in hummus can be a perfect match to both satisfy hunger in a delicious way and build better-for-you habits. Snack time is also an opportunity to let kids learn about healthy eating by participating in choosing and preparing snacks. Cutting fruits and vegetables or turning foods into crafts are easy ways to get little ones involved in the process.
“For families challenged with integrating more veggies into their diets, hummus is also a kid-friendly flavor enhancer that packs beneficial nutrition instead of the saturated fats and sugar often found in many traditional dressings and condiments,” Syn said.
Between work, school, extracurricular activities and family functions, it may seem like there’s no time to eat healthy when your family is seemingly always on the go. However, finding the proper fuel is even more important when you’re trying to balance a hectic schedule, which is where snacks can play an important role between meals.
Consider these nutritious snack options that can help satisfy a variety of cravings without taking up too much of that valuable time.
Find more ideas to satisfy snack cravings at freshcravings.com.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images (Friends snacking)