Healthy Strategies for Snack Attacks
It’s not all celery sticks, we promise! Here's how to lick the mid-afternoon munchies.
Cheez-Its, Cheetos, M&M’s, and Oreos. Tempting, not-so-good-for-us treats like these go down so easily — and now more than ever, our snacking has been on the rise. “The pandemic created a sea change in how we eat,” notes Jennifer Waldrop, MPH, RDN, a Northern California-based registered dietitian and behavior change specialist for corporate wellness clinics. With COVID-19, many of us lost our usual means of connecting with loved ones and coping with adversity, Waldrop explains. Time with friends, family parties, a night out without kids, delicious meals in restaurants, live music, and hugging: They’ve all been on hold.
In the past year, Waldrop has observed an increased frequency of snacking and eating, which people have been doing to feel better emotionally. “In the absence of real connection, the access to snacks was there to fill the void, entertain us, and alter our mood,” she says. In truth, even in non-COVID times, Americans consume about 580 calories per day in snacks. It’s not hard to understand why, as grocery aisles burst with an ever-growing list of packaged snacks. It’s also easy to see how snacking during these times can quickly add up to the Quarantine 15.
The key to curbing snacking behavior is understanding why we snack in the first place, Waldrop believes. Hunger, sight of food, needing energy and feeling tired, emotional discomfort, celebration, and social connection are all reasons we choose to snack.
“Reflecting on why we snack can surface the underlying reasons,” Waldrop explains. “Once we know the origin of our behaviors, we can uproot old patterns that are no longer serving us.” Moving forward with a new awareness, we can make healthy and delicious snack food choices.
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Listen to your body
Having observed and studied these unhealthy trends, Waldrop offers a few tips for coping with snack attacks. One step to change snacking behavior is to become aware of physical hunger and fullness cues. “This requires practice, as many of us experience sensations of hunger and fullness in different ways," Waldrop says. "Getting to know the subtle ways our body communicates a physical need for food is a way to change eating habits without dieting." She suggests spending a week noting cues such as a rumble in the stomach, a drop in energy, thoughts of food, or slight weakness. “The cues help you understand whether you need a snack, a break, or a hug.”
Manage your hunger (timing)
When we eat really does matter, Waldrop believes. With a regular eating pattern, we can plan and manage hunger hormones and eat enough during daylight hours when our bodies burn calories more efficiently. Haphazard eating can lead to undereating during the day and overeating at night,” she says, noting that late-night snacking is associated with weight gain and poor metabolism.
Practice mindful eating
Mindful eating is an approach related to how we eat, and Waldrop recommends using this helpful strategy to slow down and savor food. “Creating a practice of mindful eating where we stop and savor foods can help us take better care of our health and well-being,” she says.
One simple tip Waldrop uses is to involve all five senses to experience food. “Pause before eating and use the senses of sight, smell, taste, and sound, when possible, to experience the food and notice, without judgment, the experience of eating,” she advises. Without mindful eating, it’s easy to shovel down food, whether we’re hungry or not. Mindless snacking means extra calories and unhealthy eating habits, plain and simple.
Choose healthy snacks rich in fiber and protein
While many of us may gravitate toward irresistibly salty or sweet comfort snacks, fiber- and protein-rich foods are much better snack options, Waldrop believes. These nutrients in particular provide the fuel and staying power we need without crashing our energy or making us crave more.
Of course, even healthy snacks are meant to be just that — snacks. “When a snack is balanced, it’s easier to eat a reasonable amount and feel good,” Waldrop says. Her go-to balanced (fiber- and protein-rich) favorites include homemade trail mix, celery or apple with nut butter, carrots, red peppers, and cucumbers served with hummus.
10 favorite healthy snack recipes
Inspired by Waldrop’s tips for better snacking, we’ve compiled a round-up of family-friendly, healthy snack ideas perfect for those mid-afternoon munchies. Below you’ll find classic combos, plus a few surprises.
Skip the added carbs from pita wedges. Jazz up cut, crisp veggies — carrots, celery, and cucumber — with a dip in zesty homemade hummus. Flavored with garlic, olive oil, tahini, and a splash of lemon juice, this quick and easy Middle Eastern dip tastes delicious while offering a nutrition-packed punch. High in both fiber and protein, garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas) are also rich in B vitamins, iron, and potassium. For a spin on this classic hummus, add roasted red peppers or chopped olives.
Everyone knows half the fun in snacking is dunking. Try this low-calorie, creamy Greek yogurt dip as an alternative to store-bought ranch. The only trick is allowing 4 hours for the dip to chill so the savory flavors of dill, parsley, onion, and garlic have a chance to combine. Then, pair the tangy spread with veggies such as carrots, red bell pepper, cherry tomatoes, or cucumber — or with homemade crackers or chips (see below) — for an irresistible, healthy snack high in calcium and protein.
Crackers and cheese — yep, it’s a classic pairing. But get a load of these homemade rosemary crackers made from just five simple ingredients. Pair these with a slice of turkey and Swiss, and voilà, you’ve got an easy, healthy snack. Or slather your cracker with goat cheese for a divine bite of yum. Based on almond flour, these gluten-free crackers are low-carb and high in fiber and protein. Almonds also provide healthy fats, vitamin E, and magnesium. Rosemary is a good source of antioxidants.
Made with the goodness of vitamin A- and vitamin C-rich sweet potatoes, these baked, low-carb, and gluten-free snacks let you indulge your cravings for crunchy chips. This healthy recipe keeps it simple with four ingredients and just salt and pepper for seasoning. Leave on the peel so you can gain the full nutritional benefits of the healthy root vegetable. Pair the chips with the Greek yogurt dip above, and you’ll be rewarded with a high-fiber, high-protein snack full of pizzazz.
These high-protein, tasty turkey pinwheels make for a fun, family-friendly after-school snack and activity. For an extra dose of healthy, they start with whole-wheat spinach tortillas. Pack the lip-smacking turkey bundles with superfood spinach, which provides a nutritious bite of vitamin A and C. Can’t find sun-dried tomato paste? Swap in pesto or regular tomato paste.
Kids will love these fun fruit kabobs drizzled with just a bit of melted semi-sweet chocolate chips and sprinkled with shredded coconut and chopped almonds. Easily assembled with bananas, strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries, these quick kabobs have it all. Rich in antioxidants, potassium, and vitamin C, this naturally sweet, healthy afternoon treat is ideal for little hands to help assemble and for the whole family to enjoy. For extra protein, add a creamy peanut butter dip made with yogurt and honey.
You can’t go wrong with this easy homemade trail mix. You’ll be impressed with the abundance of healthy crunch — protein- and fiber-packed almonds, walnuts, and pecans — and sunflower seeds for a boost of vitamin E. Tossed with banana chips and cranberries, the snack even scores on potassium and antioxidants. The best part: Trail mix makes for an easy and filling treat on the go, even if that just means heading out to the backyard.
Dive into a bowl of low-fat, crispy edamame for guilt-free munching. This high-protein, addictive snack pops with Parmesan and red pepper flakes. Each flavorful bite gives you the health benefits of these green gems, including antioxidants, fiber, and vitamin K.
Store-bought granola bars will be a thing of the past after you try these no-bake, gluten-free delights. Gather up your pantry staples — old-fashioned oats, peanut butter, chocolate chips, and pecans — to whip up these wholesome treats. High in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, peanut butter is nutrient-rich and a good source of protein. Adapt the healthy snack recipe to your liking by including flaxseed, chia seeds, or dried fruit such as raisins or cranberries. Or mix and match a variety of nuts like pistachios or cashews.
Elevate dried apples and almond butter to new heights with these simple, kid-friendly energy bites. With a taste of yummy apple pie, the no-bake treats are richly flavored from dates and cinnamon and high in protein, thanks to the almonds. Dates are a good source of vitamin B6, magnesium, antioxidants, and iron, and cinnamon is known to lower blood sugar levels. Plus, the fiber from dates, almonds, and apples will keep you feeling full until the next meal.
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Explore more health content
Looking for more healthy snack ideas or worried junk food might come back and bite you in the flesh? How about some whole-grain crackers, zucchini chips, Mediterranean Cottage Cheese Dip, dark chocolate energy bites, or Greek hard-boiled eggs? You’ll find additional inspiration for every meal of the day in the following articles.