Whenever I meet a new patient, one of the first questions I ask in regards to their eating habits is: “Do you snack?”

For some reason, this question always seems to put people on edge. They usually pause, not sure if they should say yes or no. Is it a good thing that they snack? Is that what the nutritionist wants to hear? Or is snacking evil and should they deny that they ever do it?

Well, the good news is that snacking should definitely be part of everyone’s daily eating habits. A snack helps hold you over till your next meal so you are less starved. And the less starved you are at your next meal, the easier it is too control what and how much you eat. For example, if you ate lunch at 1 p.m. and dinner isn’t until 8 p.m., a 4 p.m. snack would be perfect.

Knowing when to snack is one thing, but what to snack on is another story. A snack should be thought of as a mini-meal, less than or equal to 200 calories, consisting of a high fiber carbohydrate, a lean protein, and/or a healthy fat.  If you snack on just a carbohydrate—for example, a piece of fruit—you will still be hungry. Protein and/or healthy fat are what help keep you satiated.

Some of my favorite snack ideas:

  • 1 cup plain non-fat or low-fat Greek yogurt with cup of fresh berries
  • String cheese or single-serve cheese (i.e. Cabot, Baby Bel, or Laughing Cow) with a piece of fruit (apple, pear, orange)
  • Snack-sized 2% cottage cheese with 1 cup fresh cut-up melon or pineapple
  • 1 brown rice cake with 1 TBSP natural nut butter (peanut, almond or cashew)
  • 1 ounce (equal to a shot glass) of nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews)
  • ¼ cup of roasted edamame
  • 8-ounce glass of low-fat chocolate milk
  • Whole grain crispbread (i.e. Wasa Cracker) with 3 thin slices of turkey with tomato & mustard
  • Individual can of water-packed tuna, smear of low-fat mayo on 2 whole grain crackers (i.e. Finn Crisps)
  • 1 cup vegetarian split pea, lentil or black bean soup
  • Raw veggies with hummus (1/4 cup maximum on the hummus)
  • Hardboiled egg

After-dinner snacking is a completely different story. Most likely you are not really hungry and don’t need to eat anything to “hold you over.”

You are probably eating out of habit, boredom, or stress. My Number One suggestion here is to go to bed earlier—if you are sleeping you cannot be eating.

However, if that doesn’t work and no matter what you are going to wander into the kitchen, then I suggest the following:

  • 100-calorie bag of popcorn (one only)
  • Diet jello
  • Single serve low fat frozen yogurt or sorbet (@ 100 cals maximum)
  • 1-cup non fat Greek yogurt
  • Sugar-free popsicles (I suggest no more than 25 cals/pop)
  • Raw veggies
  • 1 ounce of nuts (if you did not eat any during the day)
  • Decaf herbal tea
  • 1 cup nonfat milk
  • Diet hot chocolate

One of the most important things is to remember that in order to eat healthy snacks, you have to buy them. Being prepared is key. Clean out your cupboards, refrigerator, and freezer of the less-healthy options, and from this day forward be proud to say that you do indeed SNACK.