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Healthy Snacking - What Does It Look Like?

Updated: Jul 17, 2021

Should you include snacks as part of your daily meal plan? And if so, how many and what types should you snack on? If these questions have crossed your mind as you’ve reached for the pantry door after a long day at work, then read on. Let us guide you through the snacking process, so the next time hunger hits, you’ll know exactly which foods to reach for!

Snacking 101

Snacking is anytime you consume food or drinks in-between regular meals and includes both nutritious whole foods, as well as not-so nutritious junk foods. I encourage clients to think of snacking as a way to add extra nutrition into their diets, to provide you with more energy, and help you manage hunger and cravings. Think of snacks like mini-meals, that should include a combination of protein, whole grain carbohydrates, fruits & veg, and healthy fats.

Is snacking for everyone? Well that varies from person to person. Some people work best when they eat small, frequent snack-like meals to fuel them throughout the day, while others do just fine on three meals a day. You may need to include small nutritious snacks in-between meals if you feel extra hungry, are prone to having low blood sugar between meals, or if you are very active.

Quantity & Timing of Snacks

The important thing with snacking is to find the amount of snacks that are right for you - to prevent feeling too hungry or full in-between meals. Typically, you can include up to 2-3 small snacks per day, as long as you adjust your main meal portion sizes accordingly. Timing wise, I recommend always having a healthy snack on hand for the following conditions:

  • If you go more than 4 hours between meals. Going without food for longer than that can cause blood sugar drops, making you feel ravenous! Increasing your chances of making poor food choices and overeating.

  • If you have completed an intense workout that lasted for an hour or more. You will need to replace energy stores with carbohydrate and rebuild muscle with protein. If your workout is under 1 hour and less intense, you shouldn't need to snack.

  • Snacking before bed - there are various opinions around the timing of snacking, especially at night. If it has been several hours since dinner, I recommend having a small snack before bed, as it can help regulate blood sugar levels during the night. Think protein and fats, like a small handful of nuts. Large snacks should be avoided to help support proper digestion and prevent things like acid reflux.

Best Types of Snack Foods

Snacks should be nutritious, easy to make, filling, and above all else enjoyable! Aim for a balance of protein + a whole grain/high fibre carbohydrate (min 3g fibre) OR fruit OR vegetable OR healthy fat. If buying pre-made snacks, make sure you check the label to ensure you are getting products that are low in sugar, salt, saturated & trans fats, and excess calories. Examples to avoid include soft drink, chips, fast food, biscuits, lollies, and ice cream. Remember, everything in moderation - it’s okay to have these treats once-in-a-while, but they should not be part of your daily snack staples.

Some examples of simple smart snack options include:

Nut butters, fruits, vegetables, hard boiled eggs, popcorn, greek yoghurt, whole grain bread & crackers, cheese, nuts & seeds, protein powders.

Snack portion sizes

Snack portion sizes will vary between individuals depending on their level of activity, and amount of food they can eat in a day. You should aim to consume just enough food to control hunger without making you feel too full.  As a guide, I recommend around 200 calories per snack.

If in doubt, use your hand as a portion guide:

  • A thumb tip or two = approximately one tablespoon (allow one or two thumb tips for hummus OR nut butter)

  • A thumb = approximately one gram (allow one thumb for proteins like cheese or lean meat)

  • A fist = approximately one cup (allow one fistful for popcorn, chips or crackers, raw vegetables or fruit)

My Top 5 Smart Snacking Tips:

1. Have a Plan

Plan snacks for the week so you have different options available when hungry.

  • Keep ziplock bags or small containers handy

  • If out and about, purchase individual portion sizes such as mini dip cups, mini packs of vegetables, fresh fruit cups, or cheese sticks, to prevent overeating.

2. Stay Ready

Keep fruits & veggies washed, cut, & ready to go for easy snack options.

  • Pack snacks the night before, so you can grab-and-go in the morning

3. Make It A Combo

Combine fibre-rich carbs with protein or healthy fats, for filling nutrient packed snacks.

4. Honour Hunger

Listen to your body & have a snack if you are hungry between meals.

5. Be Mindful

Eat slowly & enjoy your snack and try to eat without distractions.

My Go-To Throw Together Snacks

  • veggie sticks & hummus

  • apple slices & almond butter

  • yoghurt with berries & granola

  • homemade popcorn

  • crackers with avocado & tomatoes

  • protein shake

  • trail mix

  • hard boiled eggs with crackers

  • piece of fruit with nuts

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