Reviewed by Mary Schroeder, registered dietitian — Health and Nutrition.
March is National Nutrition Month® — a perfect time to put together a healthful eating plan for the whole family. Snacks are an important part of any plan to eat more nutritious foods. Children need snacks for healthy growth and development, and adults need snacks for an energy boost between meals. Following are seven tips for smart snacking — snacking that involves satisfying options with less fat and sugar, and fewer empty calories.
- Plan snacks. Keep nutritious, ready-to-eat options on hand so you’re not tempted to stop at the vending machine or the convenience store for less healthy snacks.
- Include more food groups in your snacks. Focus especially on adding fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat protein foods. See below for snack ideas incorporating those foods. Also visit the MyPlate website for a reminder of the five food groups that are the building blocks of a healthy diet.
- Think of snack time as a mini meal. Plan snacks as you would a meal to include at least two of the MyPlate food groups. Just be sure portions are smaller than those served at meals.
- Keep snack sizes under control. Put snack food in small baggies or use single-serve dishes to keep portion sizes reasonable.
- Think of snacks as a way to fill gaps in your eating plan. Eating nutritious snacks each day will help you reach the recommended number of servings of healthy foods, especially the fruits and vegetables that are lacking in most of our diets.
- Make sure you’re actually hungry. Sometimes you may find yourself eating because of thirst or boredom instead of hunger. Try drinking a full glass of water and walking around for a couple minutes, then check in with your hunger level.
- Stay hydrated. Buy a water bottle and fill it with still water and other sensible choices, such as sparkling water, low-fat milk, or 100 percent juice. Be sure to check nutrition fact labels on beverages to keep calories and sugar to a minimum.
Following are some ideas for including more healthy foods in your snacks. Eat these and “Bite Into a Healthy Lifestyle” during National Nutrition Month®.
- Ants on a Log is a childhood favorite, but adults like it, too. Spread peanut butter on celery sticks, and then top each with raisins or your favorite dried fruits or nuts. Your kids will enjoy helping you make these, too.
- Bagel Faces is another recipe your kids can help you make. Top a small, whole grain bagel with cream cheese, add an apple slice for a mouth, and raisins for eyes. You might also want to use vegetables to create facial features, such as olive slices for eyes, broccoli florets for curly hair, and so on. Try this Bagel Faces recipe featuring mostly vegetables.
- Add frozen or fresh fruit to low-fat, vanilla yogurt, or blend fruit to make smoothies or popsicles. Adding fruit to plain yogurt is a healthier option than buying ready-made fruit yogurt with added sugar.
- Granola bars provide more whole grain and fiber than options like sweet, yogurt-covered graham crackers. Don’t forget to check the sugar content, though. Look for bars with less than five grams of sugar per serving.
- Make popcorn the old-fashioned way on the stovetop and reduce sodium and fat. This is another fun activity with kids — but keep smaller children’s fingers away from the stove.
- For added protein, stir beans into a favorite salsa or try this Black Bean and Corn Salsa recipe.
- On-the-go? No problem — grab a cheese stick and an apple.
- Dip fresh vegetables, such as carrots, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, or cucumbers, into hummus or cottage cheese veggie dip.
- Put your favorite trail mix (minus candy) in a small baggie, or make homemade trail mix with nuts, dried fruit, pretzels, and cereals. Use whole grain cereals for added nutrition.
Goals for this Month
Here are examples of two goals you might set this month:
- Replace two of your usual snacks that are higher in sugar, salt, or fat with two of the healthier snacks suggested above.
- Get the kids involved in making their own snacks with colorful fruits and vegetables.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (2015). During National Nutrition Month® make sensible snacks part of your healthy eating plan, says Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
United States Department of Agriculture. (2013). MyPlate snack tips for parents.