What is a snack? A snack is defined as a small portion of food or drink or a light meal, especially one eaten between regular meals.
Snacks may have a bad reputation of being unhealthy and are assumed to be a cause for weight gain. However, snacking can be an essential benefit to your diet. Snacks are important because they can boost your energy level between meals and prevent overeating.
Growing kids who do not eat enough at meals can increase their nutrient intake by snacking, and most toddlers get one-third of their calories from snacks. Teens also may need snacks to support growth.
Snacks are not just for kids though. Most adults snack at least once on any given day, (90 percent of men and 91 percent of women). And many adults are actually snacking more frequently. One in six men snack four or more times per day, and one in five women snack four or more times per day.
Snacks are currently providing one-third of all daily calories for adults, as well as 17 to 20 percent of solid fat intake and 41 to 43 percent of added sugar intake. So it’s important to choose smart snacks.
Smart snacks contain nutrient-rich foods, including fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, lean protein and whole grains, vs. snacks with “empty” calories, including processed baked goods, carbonated beverages or high-fat snacks.
Be aware of what’s in your snack too. Sometimes snacks can appear healthy, but may be high in calories, saturated fat, trans fat and added sugar, including energy bars, microwave popcorn and trail mix to name a few. Try these nutrient-rich snacks that contain 200 calories or less: 1 Tbsp. peanut butter spread on slices of a small apple (baseball size), 3 cups air-popped popcorn sprinkled with 3 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese, a small baked potato topped with salsa and 1 oz. low-fat cheese, or a whole grain waffle topped with ½ cup blueberries and 2 Tbsp. low-fat yogurt.
One of the best ways to remember to eat snacks regularly is to plan ahead. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
Try pre-portioned snacks in small containers or bags so kids and family members can easily access them. Great pre-portioned snacks could consist of cut-up fruit, 1-ounce portions of nuts or seeds, bags of baby carrots, slices of bell peppers, or crackers with low-fat cheese, hummus or peanut butter.
Make sure to pack your purse, workbag, backpack and car with shelf-stable snacks that you can eat on the go when you’re crunched for time.
Keeping snacks visible is a great tool to help remember to eat them. Try leaving a bowl of fresh fruit and vegetables on the counter and make sure to wash them right away when you get home from grocery shopping so they’re ready to eat.
Healthy snacks don’t have to cost much and can be affordable if you’re on a budget. Stock up on fruits and vegetables that are in season (and therefore cheaper in price); wash and freeze for a later date.
Also, if the budget is tight, pick one or two healthy snacks and eat those everyday for a week, then switch to a new snack.
One issue some parents experience is getting snacks into their active kids during school hours when snacks are prohibited in classrooms and lockers. If you are concerned, talk to your school staff to see if they will allow your child to have a quick, supervised snack between classes.
Remember, snacks are important for all ages and having regular, portion-controlled, nutrient-rich snacks can be important for adequate nutrition and an overall healthy lifestyle.
USDA ARS MyPyramid Intakes and Snacking Patterns of US Adults, from What we Eat in America, NHANES 2007-2008. Dietary Data Brief No. 5 June 2011.