Keith-Thomas Ayoob, EdD, RD, FAND, Department of Pediatrics, Children's Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York
How can health professionals use snacking trends to improve nutrient quality of their clients' food choices?
Snacking is no longer merely a trend, but a new lifestyle that is not “good” or “bad.” The number of adults snacking as well as the number of snacks eaten has flipped in just a few decades. Because snacking is no longer an occasional treat, but engaged in multiple times a day and each day by the majority of consumers, snacks are now considered mini-meals. Snack choices need to provide nutrients such as calcium and potassium that are sorely lacking in diet; they need to be good for you AND taste good. Snacking doesn’t have to be an either/or. The best combinations meet dietary gaps, particularly if meals are skipped.
When working with clients, dive into how an individual snacks. Some may snack once a day; others may snack only occasionally perhaps every 1 to 2 days. If snacking is a treat, consider whether calories or physical activity need to be adjusted to prevent weight gain, or physical activity increased to lose weight. Also, ask about timing as it may depend on how someone defines a snack. Someone may skip lunch but have something in the midmorning and consider it a snack, not breakfast or lunch.
A snack often depends on the definition of time, not the size of what is eaten. Some teens may stop after school and down about 700 calories at a fast food restaurant or minimart and call it a snack. Finally, because tastes and demographics have changed over time—who would have thought that hummus would be on school lunch menus?—what once was a novelty is now mainstream. This means health professionals need to be aware of foods and beverages available in the retail and quick-service food industries so their messages are matched to the marketplace.
How can health professionals help clients address barriers to choosing healthy snacks?
Advice needs to be customized. Like any project someone undertakes, eating well for taste and nutrition needs a well-designed plan, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Barriers don’t work anymore as excuses—most everyone is on the go. There is a plethora of healthy choices that can be purchased, including individual portions of fresh fruit, nuts and yogurt.
If clients work in places not well located for nutritious snack choices, then it’s time to suggest they get into the habit of packing portable snacks at home. There’s plenty of variety in fruit, nuts and yogurt and good reasons to eat each of these foods daily. Clients need to understand that simple snacks are OK, often the best, and prepping them at home is even economical. Grazing on a variety of low-fat dairy, vegetables, fruits and whole-grain crackers is nutritious, portable and convenient. If consumers truly want to snack well, it has never been easier, so now the focus needs to be on pointing out how and sustaining their motivation.