Snacking has a bad reputation, but as the American Heart Association says, “Snacking isn’t 'bad' if you do it in moderation and make healthy choices.” Smart snacks provide nutrients, like fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and unsaturated fats. If you choose nutrient-dense snacks relatively low in calories, you won't blow your diet. Even some healthful high-calorie options like nuts can help with weight loss and maintenance when eaten in small amounts. Healthy snacking also helps keep your appetite in check. If you've deprived yourself of food during your busy day during the many hours between lunch and dinner, you're likely to be ravenous and overeat at mealtime. As an added bonus, healthy snacks help keep your energy levels up and your mind off your hunger and deprivation when cravings strike between meals. That means improved performance at work, feeling better throughout the day, and being ready to tackle the next tasks on your to-do list. Making smart dietary choices isn't always easy, especially if you have a hectic schedule or are trying to watch your budget. The unhealthiest options are often some of the most convenient and cheapest. But don't despair; there are plenty of ways to incorporate healthy snacks into your busy life and limited food budget. Below are 20 healthy snacking ideas. They're a starting point, and you can certainly come up with your own variations. Variety is key to preventing boredom, one of the more common reasons people end up reaching for some super-sugary, heavily processed junk food.
- Cut up some combination of carrots, cucumbers, bell pepper, and celery into thin sticks. Bring along a container of peanut butter or hummus for dipping.
- Cucumber slices also go well with a small piece of feta cheese or a smear of reduced-fat cream cheese or Greek yogurt on top.
- Chop up raw broccoli and cauliflower florets. Use a small amount of a vinaigrette or other low-fat dressing of your choice or hummus as a dip.
- If you have a juicer, make vegetable juices, fill up your thermos, and take it with you to easily sip wherever you go.
- If you're into liquid snacks, adding protein powder to smoothies, juices, and even coffee and espresso beverages is an easy way to feel fuller and get more protein.
- Just a handful of unsalted nuts and/or seeds provides a major nutritional wallop and lots of protein and fiber to stave off hunger.
- Edamame is also high in protein and fiber. A handful or two of these lightly salted soybeans makes a great snack, and it's lower calorie than nuts and seeds.
- Whole grain or multigrain crackers are high in fiber. Top them with a thin slice of cheese or a dollop of peanut, cashew, almond, sunflower, or other butter for more flavor, nutrients, and satisfaction.
- Whole grain rice cakes work, too. Top them with your favorite nut butter and slices of banana.
- Don't overlook fruit. Most fruit is so easy to grab and eat on the go, and of course fruits are nutritious, low-calorie, and pleasing to a sweet tooth.
- Dried fruit is another nutritious, highly portable, less perishable convenience food. Just remember, it's much more calorie-dense than fresh fruit, so watch the quantity.
- Make hard-boiled eggs in less than 15 minutes; you can prepare a batch for the week and keep them in the fridge. Eggs are highly nutritious and satisfying, and one only has about 80 calories.
- Salsa is a low-calorie dip, while guacamole has more calories but lots of healthy fats and nutrients; use either on a serving of whole grain corn chips.
- For a filling, high-protein, low-carb snack, roll up slices of deli meat and cheese.
- Popcorn is a whole grain treat. Skip the butter and it's good for you. If you need more flavor, use a little salt or a light dusting of grated Parmesan cheese.
- Whip up a batch of instant oatmeal. It's fast and easy, there are plenty of flavors (just watch for excessive added sugar), and this too is a whole grain snack rich in fiber and B vitamins.
- Fill a mini pita or two with hummus. Drop in some olives or chopped veggies to convert the snack to more of a mini-meal.
- A little container of reduced-fat cottage cheese or yogurt is a healthful dairy option. Add some fruit for more flavor and nutritional value.
- Packaged foods are often a poor choice, but protein/snack bars made with whole grains, nuts, and seeds and low in added sugar are convenient healthy snacks (though not particularly cheap).
- If you have a few minutes and access to a toaster, make a frozen whole grain waffle or pancake. Skip the syrup and top it with fruit and maybe some low-fat ricotta.