I’m a snacker. Full meals are great, but there’s something about snacking that just seems to make eating a bit more fun. Luckily for a snacker like me, I’m in the kitchen all day which allows me to try food throughout the day- basically my dream come true. Not many people hold occupations like this, and so snacking becomes a bit trickier. When to snack, how much to snack, what to snack… should I be snacking at all? I’m a believer in the intuitive eating mentality- listen to your body to determine if you need to eat. It’s not always easy at first to tap into this mindfulness exercise, but with time it gets easier. So let’s say the answer is “yes” and your body needs some extra fuel before that next meal. Now what? Let us begin the discussion on the art of the snack.
A snack, though painfully obvious, is smaller than a meal and eaten in between conventional meal times (breakfast, lunch, and dinner). What does a snack look like? Well anyone could tell you what they consider a snack to be. I think the interesting question is whether or not there is a specific guideline for what a snack should be. As a Registered Dietitian, my school-taught choreographed response is “something around 200 calories or less, with a good macronutrient balance”- basically any combination of a protein dominant food paired with a carbohydrate dominant food or a fat dominant food. This means that simply having a glass of orange juice, which is 100% carbohydrate, would not count as a complete snack. The thought behind this is that a snack should provide enough satiety and energy to get you to the next appropriate meal time, and so at least two macronutrients would be preferred.
Should we be snacking?
There are obvious reasons why snacking can be a good thing. If there is a long period of time between regularly scheduled meals, if someone is attempting to gain weight and supplement their current eating routine, or if you performed an intense activity and need to refuel. But there are obvious downsides as well. Snacking can lead to unintended weight gain due to an excess of calories and the most common snacks are usually not the healthiest, meaning you’re adding not just calories but unnecessary (and potentially harmful) additives/dyes/chemicals into your system. Snacking might not be for everyone. However, if you’re a “snacker”, consider Snacking Smart (discussed later on!)
In my research on snacking, I came across an interesting finding: many millennials are replacing a standard meal with a snack-like meal – a “snackification” of mealtimes, if you will (a phrase I desperately wish I had come up with myself). In an article by Food Navigator, 92% of a group of Millennials admitted to replacing a mealtime with a snack about one time per week. Around 50% reported doing this at least four times per week. The reason behind this snacking trend hits on a point I had not previously mentioned- convenience. In this group surveyed, it was reported that snacking was preferred due to busy schedules or the unwillingness to cook. Again, the fine line between a snack and a meal comes into play. If eaten during a standard mealtime, does it still remain a snack? Is it considered a snack due to the amount eaten? While the article did not give these details, I think it is interesting to consider that snack size could be different for individuals, especially if we think of the snack a male teenage athlete might consume versus and elderly female. Alas, snacking is not black and white (unless you’re eating Oreos… but should they really be thought of as a snack?)
The ingredient list on a package of Oreos. I spy a few synthetically-inserted vitamins among a host of nonessential junk ingredients.
While navigating the snacking world is not always easy, there are some simple tips for making snacking work for you:
Start today by switching some of your usual snacks to “real food” choices. Do it slowly so that you don’t become overwhelmed. Create your snack pack arsenal, and learn to check-in with yourself when you feel a snack craving coming on. There is definitely a place for snacking, and it’s best done when we are choosing nourishing foods for our bodies. That’s all for now! All this snack talk has made me hungry, so I’m off to eat an avocado with hot sauce. Don’t knock it ‘til you try it.