If you’re thinking about improving your eating habits, don’t ignore snacking. Read this article for tips, strategies, and snack ideas to help detox your snacking habits and promote mindful—and healthier—snacking.
When we think about what we eat each day, we typically think about the three meals we consume (or sometimes skip): breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It can be easy to forget about snacks, or the things we consume between each meal.
Snacks have typically been associated with indulgence or foods we eat to help satisfy cravings, such as that piece of chocolate we reach for during an afternoon work break. However, not all snacking includes just that piece of chocolate. In fact, recent research found that Canadian adults snack approximately five times each day, making up 67 percent of all eating occasions.
Research from the US found that adults have significantly increased their snack intake since the 1970s, with 24 percent of total energy intake now coming from snacks. In addition, they found the top five sources of adult energy intake came from desserts, salty snacks, other snacks, sweetened beverages, and juices/fruit.
With approximately one quarter of our daily energy intake coming from snacks, we can’t ignore snacking when we’re thinking about improving our eating habits.
Our fast-paced society and busy schedules often lead us to snacking. Sometimes it’s easier to grab things on the go or snack and work simultaneously instead of sitting down to a full meal. If you snack, make sure you’re being mindful of the foods and beverages you choose and snack in a way that promotes healthy eating.
First, identify your snacking patterns. Ask yourself these three questions to help determine your current habits.
1. What are your favourite snacks?
By identifying your favourite snacks, you might start to see a trend in your preference for a particular type of foods. We all typically have a preferred flavour profile. When you’re craving something, is it usually sweet or salty? Knowing what you prefer can help you choose healthier sweet or salty snacks that still satisfy those cravings.
2. What times of the day do you snack or find yourself searching for food: morning, afternoon, or evening?
Identifying what time of the day you snack or find yourself hungry can help you be prepared for those times. For example, if you tend to get hungry mid-afternoon, ensure you pack a snack that will leave you feeling satisfied on your way home.
3. Are some of your snacking habits causing overeating or overindulgence?
In other words, do you snack on things you probably don’t need or when you’re not actually hungry? If you have trigger snack times that tend to cause overeating or overindulgence, the first step is to understand your triggers. Once you identify some of your triggers, you can strategize ways to avoid them.
For example, if you tend to snack in the evening on your couch in front of the TV, perhaps the couch is a trigger area, or perhaps your living room is right beside your kitchen where food is readily available. Try moving your evening routine to your bedroom.
Simple strategies to detox mindless snacking
Control your portions
This will ensure you don’t mindlessly overeat. For example, instead of sitting down in front of the TV with the entire bag of popcorn, portion it out into a small bowl and put the rest away or take just a small handful of nuts instead of the whole container.
Evaluate your hunger
Are you truly hungry (stomach-rumbling hunger) or are you eating out of habit? If you don’t need to eat, try chewing a piece of gum, or drinking coffee, tea, or water instead.
Try infusing your water with natural flavours from your favourite fruits and vegetables, such as berries, oranges or lemons, peaches, cucumber, ginger, or mint.
Delay and distract cravings
If you’re craving something sweet or salty, but you’re not truly hungry, tell yourself you can have that snack, but after you’ve waited 20 minutes. During that 20 minutes, do something that will distract you from snacking (such as checking emails, taking your dog for a walk, or doing some chores).
If after the 20 minutes you’re still craving the snack, indulge in a small amount and satisfy that craving. Oftentimes, though, you’ll realize you don’t really need the snack, and the intense craving is gone.
When possible, don’t eat while distracted. Instead, stop and take a few minutes to enjoy your snack (which you’ve already portioned out to avoid overindulging). This will decrease your risk of overeating and promote more mindful snacking.
Quick tips for healthy snacking
Think of snacks as mini meals
Mini meals should be loaded with nutrients and combine different types of foods. A great way to achieve this is by including either a vegetable or fruit with each snack.
Try it: cucumber and hummus, Greek yogurt and berries, a banana and nut butter
Make healthy snacking easy
Stock your fridge and pantry with items that are easy for you to pack for times when you’re on the go. If you make a grocery list, be sure to include snacks for the week. What food items can you take with you to avoid that vending machine at work?
Try it: individual yogurt containers, baby carrots, celery sticks, hummus, sliced cheese, dried fruit, nuts
Think outside the box
Your snack doesn’t have to be a “typical” snack food. It can be anything you would eat during any other mealtime.
Try it: a slice of whole grain toast with nut butter, a hard-boiled egg and veggies, a small omelette-to-go.
Sweet snack ideas
If you enjoy sweet snacks, try these healthy options:
- trail mix that includes your favourite nuts and dried fruit, sunflower or pumpkin seeds, and shredded coconut
- apple slices or a banana and nut butter (almond or peanut)
- yogurt mixed with cinnamon and fresh or frozen berries
- baked apple (see recipe below)
1 apple (Granny Smith works well)
1 tsp (5 mL) butter or coconut oil
A sprinkle each of brown sugar and cinnamon
1/4 cup (60 mL) plain Greek yogurt
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract
1 tsp (5 mL) honey or maple syrup
Slivered almonds, for garnish
Make a pit in apple by partially removing its core. Stuff core with butter or coconut oil and sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon. Bake at 375 F (190 C) for 10 to 15 minutes, or until softened and golden coloured.
Mix yogurt with vanilla and honey or maple syrup; mix together well. Top baked apple with yogurt mixture and sprinkle slivered almonds on top. Enjoy!
Salty snack ideas
If you enjoy salty snacks, try these healthy options:
- whole grain crackers and cheese
- hummus and veggies
- nut mixture (sunflower seeds, walnuts, almonds, pistachios)
- popcorn popped with vegetable oil and sprinkled with minimal sea salt and dill or any of your favourite spice combinations, including oregano, rosemary, and chili flakes