We’re a nation of snackers. But are we smart snackers? 91% of us snack multiple times a day, and 50% of our eating “events” are snacks. Parents, did you know the more kids you have, the more you will snack? Yep. There’s a direct correlation. Companies, did you know one of the simplest, easiest ways to cultivate happy, healthy employees is to offer healthy snacks in the workplace? It’s true. Healthy snacks offered at work are directly related to employees who have:
  • better diet quality
  • lower body weights
  • better engagement and productivity
Whether you’re a parent, a millennial (one of the largest snacking demographics) or a business owner, what and how you snack matters. The top three snacks we consume in the United States are chips, chocolate, and cheese. My guess would be that these aren’t my favorite bean-based “beanitos,” 70% dark chocolate or portion-controlled light cheese sticks?

Why We Snack

Snack data from the Hartman group, shows that we snack for 3 primary reasons:
 
Nourishment (56% of us snack for this reason)
  • Hunger Avoidance
  • Hydration Management
  • Sustained Energy

Optimization (34% of us snack for this reason)

  • Quick Energy
  • Recovery & Rejuvenation
  • Mental Focus
  • Stress Management

Pleasure (49% of us snack for this reason)

  • Indulgence/reward
  • Comfort craving
  • Variety
  • Discovery

 

Snacking to avoid overeating or to focus for an important task are meaningful reasons to snack. On the flip side, if we are snacking out of habit or as a reward, our snack personality might be sabotaging our efforts. Here are 5 smart snack strategies that work with our clients:

5 Steps To Becoming a Strategically Smart Snacker

Is it habitually or intentional?

22% of us mindlessly snack. Before you reach for the almonds, self assess: am I hungry? Or am I bored? Or am I eating just because I always eat at 3 pm? Mapping out a rough “eating schedule” can help. On average, I eat around 6:30 am, 11 am, 3 pm and 6:30 pm. If I want a snack outside of my regular eating times, it helps to make sure I’m really hungry. Checking in with both hunger and emotion prior to ANY meal is a helpful practice.

Start Small

In one study, researchers divided volunteers into two groups. One group received a large snack while the other received a small snack. After 15 minutes, both groups were asked to rate their hunger. The small snack group reported being equally satisfied as the large snack group. Very often, 100-150 calories will do the trick. But, we have to give our brain the chance to register what went into our belly. So start small, and then if you are still hungry, go for a smart snack, round 2.

Reframe your snack as a mini-meal

In another study, mentally framing snacks as meals reduced calorie intake during snack time. In the study, participants snacked on foods in bowls labeled “meals” and “snacks.” They ate 50% more calories from the snack bowls than from the meal bowls. My kids have validated this finding consistently. “Can I have snacks for dinner, mom?” Sure, sweetie. Then I serve them dinner cut up like snacks. 😉

Remember, proximity has power.

Plan to keep healthy snacks on hand. For example, in Google’s New York office, they replaced a glass jar of free M&Ms with dried fruit. In 7 weeks, their 2,000 employees consumed 3.1 million fewer calories. If you don’t have control over the office break room, arm yourself with healthy snacks so office treats and vending machines don’t derail your efforts.
 
Some of my personal favorites smart snacks include:
 
– Apple + almond butter + honey
– Whole grain crackers + light cheese and dried fruit
– Homemade trail mix with a little chocolate
– Whole grain wrap with hummus and cheese
 
Each snack is around 200 calories. They include a combination of at least 2 different healthy foods.

Plan for smart snacks you look forward to eating.

It is well known, you’ll be more likely to stick to healthy habits when you find them appealing. The snack list above includes foods that are physically and mentally satisfying to me. Snacks should be foods you look forward to eating, or you’ll find your hand in the M&M jar. (which, by the way, I would personally find very satisfying. ;))
 
DOWNLOAD our healthy snack idea sheet.

Jennifer McDaniel

Jennifer McDaniel is a Registered Dietitian, Media Spokesperson, and co-author of Prevention's Mediterranean Table Cookbook. She and her team of Registered Dietitians aim to help their clients go further, make change last, and unlock their potential. She lives in St. Louis, MO with her husband, and three young sons. If you are interested in working with Jennifer, please visit our contact page.