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  • Writer's pictureMeghan Stock

How to Snack Well

examples of healthy snack foods

One of the most contentious topics in nutrition is snacking.  Some people think you should eat 6 times a day, some think you should only eat 3 times.  Some think eating after dinner will ruin you, others think you’ll sleep better with a snack before bed. 


Is there a right answer?  The quick answer is no, but of course it’s not that simple!


Since everyone’s schedule is different, snacking is very individual.  In this blog, we’ll discuss the principles around snacking, so you can figure out how snacks can work for you.

What is the purpose of a snack?

Meals continue to be the main opportunity for healthy eating in a day. Snacks are meant to help moderate mealtimes.  Everyone’s had the experience where you’re feeling starved while cooking, and you reach for any and everything you can find to shove in. There is a feeling of loss of control during these times too, which is generally a crappy feeling.  In these situations, you end up eating way too many calories, due to that loss of control.  The point of snacking is to avoid putting yourself into those positions.


A snack is meant to bridge the gap between meals so you arrive at your meal feeling hungry and in control of your intake. The general rule is to go no more than 4 hours without eating something, so the need for snacks may change day to day. Most people need an afternoon snack, since they eat lunch around noon and supper around 6-7pm.  A snack at 3pm does wonders to tide you over and makes afternoons (especially work days) more manageable. 


For those of you with irregular work schedules, or who work night shifts it can be very difficult to know when to eat.  Use the guidelines of not going more than 4 hours without eating and using snacks to tide yourself over between meals to know when to eat.


 If you keep the purpose of a snack in mind, you can decide each day if it’s needed or not. 

What makes a healthy snack?

Keeping in mind the purpose of a snack – to tide you over until your next meal, we can structure the food we eat to achieve the purpose.  A healthy snack contains both a carbohydrate-containing food and a protein-containing food. 


Carbohydrate-containing foods are foods in the following food groups: starches, fruit and vegetables. 


Protein-containing foods are meat (chicken, beef, fish), all dairy (cheese, yogurt, milk), eggs, nuts, seeds, tofu, beans, chickpeas, lentils, etc.


The purpose for structuring a snack like this is provide your body with what it needs between meals.  Carbohydrate is a fancy word for sugar, so eating a carbohydrate-containing food will provide your body with sugar to maintain a steady blood sugar level.  This will provide energy, will moderate your mood (avoiding that hangry feeling) and will feel satisfying.  Protein is a complicated molecule, so it takes awhile to digest.  This will keep you fuller for longer, which will also help tide you over until your next meal.

How much should I eat?

Again, to know how much to eat is to remember the purpose of a snack.  This is not a meal, it’s not meant to fill you up, it’s just meant to tide you over so you don’t arrive at your next meal feeling so hungry you can’t control your intake. 


That’s a long way of saying there is no right answer!  But it’s probably not as much as you think. In the next section I’ve listed some examples of amounts, but you’ll need to practice some mindful eating principles to listen to your body and adjust amounts over time.  Start with the amounts listed below, then adjust – were you fuller than you expected, or was it not enough?  Keep adjusting the amount you eat until you get a better sense of what is right for you.


Remembering that a healthy snack contains a carbohydrate food and protein food, review the following lists and mix and match to fit your preferences!


Carbohydrate-containing foods:

-       Fruit – 1 serving is ½ cup berries or cut up fruit, piece of fruit that fits in the palm of your hand (apple, orange, peach, etc.)

-       Rice cakes – 1-2

-       Vegetables – 1 cup

-       Crackers – check box for serving size

-       Bread – 1 slice

-       Popcorn – 3 cups popped


Protein-containing foods:

-       Nuts and seeds – ¼ cup

-       Nut butter – 2 Tablespoons

-       Cheese – 30g, piece the size of your pointer and ring fingers together

-       Yogurt – ½ cup

-       Hummus – 2 Tablespoons

-       Egg (i.e. hardboiled) – 1


Putting it together:

-       Apple and peanut butter

-       Cheese and crackers

-       Vegetables and hummus

-       Trail mix (nuts, seeds and dried fruit)

-       Yogurt parfait (yogurt, granola and berries)

How to be successful

You’re the one eating the snack, so do whatever you want!  The key is to have these foods on hand and ready to eat, so you can grab and go.  Make a list of snack foods that you enjoy, buy these foods and prep if needed, then healthy snacking can be easy!

As always, get in touch if you want help figuring out how to fit healthy snacking into your lifestyle!

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