Snacks are inherently appealing.
They’re tasty and accessible. They also confer a hint of naughtiness, a sense of sneaking something in, and we all like to be a little naughty or sneaky at times.
Also appreciated is the act of snacking, which implies less work than making a meal (and cleaning up after making a meal).
So let’s snack — but without charting our demise. Here are seven ways to snack more healthfully, in manners elevated and satisfying.
1. Treat your snack like a meal
I know this suggestion sounds like I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth, but I mean it in a specific way: Stop what you’re doing while you eat your snack, in much the same way it’s good practice to do so while eating a meal.
Giving your snack the attention it deserves means you don’t wind up suddenly looking down at an empty bag of flavored almonds without having been aware of the delicious experience of eating them.
2. Eat every few hours
Green light to eat frequently? Yes, please.
“A common misconception is that you’re not supposed to snack,” says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, an inclusive plant-based dietitian in Stamford, Conn., and owner of Plant Based with Amy. “But eating every three to five hours helps maintain steady blood sugar levels and helps prevent getting ‘hangry.’ So plan out your meals and snacks to fit into this timing.”
Like I said: Snacking seems sneaky. But now you have it from a pro: Snacking is totally fine (though you can still feel naughty while you do it, if that scratches an itch).
3. Eat a balanced snack
“Oftentimes, people will reach for something healthy like an apple as a snack — but get hungry soon after,” Gorin says. “The key to staying fuller for longer is reaching for snacks that combine the filling nutrients protein, fiber and healthy fats.” Keep in mind that your body burns carbohydrates most quickly.
Try it: Pair an apple, which has fiber (and can somewhat meet a sweet craving), with a nut or seed butter — peanut, almond, sesame, sunflower — which offers protein and healthy fat. Or if you want carbs, try whole wheat pita or crackers with hummus, which offers protein and fiber from the garbanzo beans and healthy fat from the olive oil and sesame seeds/tahini.
4. Eat nutritious snacks
We all want to eat bad stuff sometimes. “It’s normal to crave sugar,” Gorin says. It also leaves us hungry. “Fact: You’re not going to feel as satiated if you eat a candy bar versus a more-nutritious snack,” she says.
Return to the idea of protein, fiber, healthy fat.
Gorin counts Harvest Snaps Lightly Salted Baked Green Pea Snacks among her favorites. “The first ingredient is green peas, and you get fiber and protein — a good amount of each — per serving. You also get a dose of healthy fats.”
My favorites include lightly salted pistachios: fun to crack open, delightfully balanced between the salt and barely-sweet pistachios. And Larabar snack bars: healthy and simple ingredients that make you feel full, yet surprisingly sweet enough to call dessert. Of course, there are many other good-for-you bars (or you could make your own).
5. Know it’s okay to have dessert as a snack
Yum. More dessert talk.
“Sometimes, you may not be craving something ‘healthy,’” Gorin acknowledges. “That’s okay. But have some recipes on hand so that you can make dessert-like healthier foods for snack time, such as chickpea cookie dough or avocado chocolate mousse.”
I love avocado chocolate mousse, which I first had around 2006 at a vegan space where I taught yoga in South Florida, well before plant-based substitutions were more broadly adopted. It tastes richer than traditional chocolate mousse. Try it if you haven’t — good advice for me too; I’ve never tried chickpea cookie dough, but given I love cookie dough, I will.
6. Freeze snacks so you have them handy
Gorin likes to make energy balls, an easy task and one able to yield so many snack versions. “I freeze them so I have healthy snack options within reach,” she says.
You can create energy balls with whatever nuts/seeds/oats/fruit you have on hand, as long as something in your mixture is sticky enough to bind your combo: nut butters and soaked dates work well.
7. Keep snacks with you
Another tip that essentially encourages eating (yeah!).
If you’ve got snacks with you, you won’t suddenly wind up starving but without anything decent to eat.
This frantic state has snuck up on me many times, which is why now when I leave the house I’m prepared for hunger’s hit by having with me a little bag of nuts for when I want something savory, and several Larabars (so I have flavor choices, of course) for when I want something sweet.
Mitra Malek is a news journalist and former Yoga Journal editor. She likes snacks almost as much as she likes meals, and sometimes counts her snacks as meals.