Snacks, the foods eaten between meals, account for up to one-quarter of daily calories for adults in the United States. Eating habits of both adults and children have changed dramatically in the past few decades, shifting from three square meals to all-day snacking. Forty years ago, 73% of adults snacked once a day or not at all. By 2008, 65% of adults were snacking two or more times a day. Most snack foods are high in sugar and salt and low in nutrients, and they may be contributing to an increasingly overweight and obese population.
Fortunately, snack opportunities can be used to improve eating habits. Having strategies in place to create healthy snacks can lead to fewer impulse snacks and greater awareness of food choices. By choosing from multiple food groups and following purchase and storage tips, snacks can make up for nutrient gaps while satisfying hunger and cravings.
Healthy Snack Tips
- Pair up snacking choices. Healthy snacks combine foods from at least two food groups and often include protein-rich foods that promote satiety, helping maintain longer satisfaction between meals. Pair milk, cheese, yogurt, nuts, hard-cooked eggs or peanut butter (convenient, affordable, protein-rich foods) with a food such as an apple, whole grain crackers or celery from another food group.
- Keep nutrient-dense foods on-hand. Stock the house, car or office with foods such as apples, nut butters, cheese and whole-grain crackers. These are great examples of convenient, affordable favorites that can be mixed and matched. Have more than one option available to meet personal needs, tastes and preferences.
- Use smaller containers, plates or utensils to limit portion sizes. After arriving home from the store, immediately portion out foods by serving size to avoid eating straight from the container, which increases consumption.
- Don't go grocery shopping while hungry. Snack wisely beforehand to avoid feeling hungry at the grocery store. Make sure to pick up a variety of foods from all the food groups.
Kitchen Tips for Healthy Snacks
- Be mindful of what is left out on the counter. Put cereal, soft drinks, chips and other less nutrient-dense foods away in cupboards and leave fruits or other healthy snacks out on the counters.
- Make tempting foods inconvenient. Place healthy snack foods like yogurt, veggie sticks or fruits where they can easily be seen and consumed. Use clear storage containers to encourage certain foods and put less healthful or more indulgent items behind closed doors or at the bottom of the refrigerator/freezer.
- Place healthy choices in view. When purchasing a refrigerator, look for one with the freezer on the bottom. This makes it easier to keep healthy, refrigerated options at eye level.
- Keep the refrigerator stocked with high-protein foods like yogurt, hard-cooked eggs or reduced-fat string cheese portioned out for snacking.
- Increase intake of whole grains and dairy foods. Prepare healthy snacks like parfaits with low-fat yogurt, oatmeal or granola and fruit and store them in clear containers in the refrigerator.
- Banish the television. Keep the television out of the kitchen and limit television use to prevent mindless snacking.
- Combine foods for more nutrients and enjoyment. Pick three or four favorite fruits and prepare half of them in a fruit salad. Store the remaining whole fruits in a bowl on the counter.
Sebastian RS, Wilkinson Enns C, Goldman JD. Snacking patterns of US adults: what we eat in America, NHANES 2007-2008. US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center. Food Surveys Research Group Dietary Data Brief No. 4. http://ars.usda.gov/Services/docs.htm?docid=19476. Published June 2011. Accessed January 8, 2020.