Published on July 18, 2018

We’ve become a nation of snackers

Bonnie Brost

By Bonnie Brost, licensed and registered dietitian at Essentia Health.

Gobble, gulp and go is the theme of eating in America.

We’re snacking more than ever and overhauling the very definition of the American meal. Snack food is becoming the meal. There’s not even a good definition of what constitutes a snack and what is a meal. 

Snacking has increased from 59 percent in the late 1970s to 90 percent in 2009, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly 1 in 6 adults get more than 40 percent of their total daily calories from snacks. Snacks were defined as eating between meals.

Snacking is becoming a national pastime in our busy, over-scheduled lives. We snack while driving, shopping, meeting, worshipping, watching television and scrolling social media.

We don’t have time to cook or eat a meal. We’re not taking the time to plan what we will eat for the day. Convenience in food preparation has been the path of least resistance for many years.

Snacking has benefits, if we wisely choose what we eat. Choosing whole foods or minimally processed foods can ensure we get important vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that improve our health. Choose fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains.

One risk of snacking is not being aware of how many extra calories we may be taking. We don’t often eat less at the next meal if we’ve had a snack and that can lead to weight gain. A good option is to plan two snacks instead of one meal. 

Another risk is that we eat mindlessly. We snack without experiencing the true taste, texture or flavor of our food. The habit of eating mindlessly is another risk for weight gain.  

Here’s how to use snacks wisely:

  • Do not go more than five hours without eating something. If you get too hungry, it’s hard to choose well and control portions. If your next meal is more than five hours away, eat a snack of 100-250 calories. Be mindful at the next meal to limit your portions.
  • If you are not a breakfast eater, plan a morning snack within two hours of starting your day.
  • Have a plan, at least eight hours to a day in advance, on what snacks will be available to you.  Pack them in your lunch pack, backpack, purse or desk. Pack a cooler of snacks as you travel, even for day trips or a shopping trip. This helps avoid the vending machines, fast food drive-throughs and buying snacks on impulse, such as when you stop to gas up your car.
  • Eat your snacks slowly and more mindfully. Pay more attention to the texture, taste and flavor of what you are eating. This will help you feel more satisfied with a smaller portion.
  • Stock up on fruits and vegetables for snacks when shopping. Let your family members know what is available for them to take as snacks. Put a family member on snack prep duty each week to insure snacks are ready to go.

Snack ideas

Whole food or minimally processed

Fiber
2 grams or more

Protein
At least 3 grams

Comments

Fresh Fruits
Apples, bananas, oranges, clementines, grapes, cherries, pears berries, melon, kiwi,

Yes

Yes

No

Does not have protein, but is loaded with vitamins and minerals

Fresh Vegetables
Grape tomatoes, carrots, celery, jicama, cucumber, broccoli, pea pods, cauliflower

Yes

Yes

Most – Yes

 

Hummus or bean dips

Yes

Yes

Yes

Great with vegetables or whole-grain crackers

Whole-grain chips and crackers
Triscuits, Wheat Thins, Crunch Master, Food should Taste Good multigrain, Garden of Eatin

Yes

Yes

Yes

 

Popcorn
Skinny Pop, Boom Chicka pop

Yes

Yes

Yes

 

Yogurt, lowfat

Yes, if plain or Greek without a lot of added sugar

No

Yes – Greek yogurt has more protein

Add your own fruit to increase fiber

Light String Cheese

Yes

No

Yes

Great source of protein

Nuts and Trail Mixes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Avoid trail mixes with candy added. Choose lightly salted or less than 100 milligrams of sodium per serving.

Snack Bars
Kind Bars, Kashi Bars, Lara Bars, Nature Valley Bars

Yes

Yes

Yes

Choose the varieties lowest in sugar

Healthy Trail Mix

This is a quick and easy trail mix recipe that kids enjoy putting together. It’s a great source of the good fats we need in our diet. It provides a little fruit, a little protein and a lot of satisfaction. 

1½ cup dried fruits, such as apricots, apples, pineapple, mango or prunes.  (Avoid dried bananas, very high in bad fat)
¼ cup raisins and/or dried cranberries
1 cup unsalted sunflower seeds
2 cups unsalted roasted almonds or peanuts or chopped walnuts or pecans

Use a scissors to snip dried fruit into small pieces. Combine all ingredients and store in an air-tight container.

Nutrition Facts
Servings: 16; serving size, ¼ cup; calories, 140; total fat, 10 grams; saturated fat, 1 gram; cholesterol, 0 milligrams; sodium, 5 milligrams; potassium, 175 milligrams; carbohydrates, 11 grams; fiber, 3 grams; protein, 4 grams.

Benito Bean Dip

2 green onions
25-ounce can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
½ cup salsa (sodium less than 75 milligrams per serving)
¼ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
2 tablespoons cilantro leaves, chopped

Place all ingredients, except cilantro, in a food processor or blender. Process until smooth. Add chopped cilantro. Serve with lower sodium tortilla chips or vegetables. 

Nutrition Facts
Servings: 16; serving size, 2 tablespoons; calories, 65; total fat, 0 grams; saturated fat, 0 grams; cholesterol, 0 milligrams; sodium, 35 milligrams; potassium, 200 milligrams; carbohydrates, 12 grams; fiber, 4.5 grams; protein, 4 grams.