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JOHNSTON: Snacking doesn’t have to be bad

I don’t know about you, but since this all started nearly two months ago, I feel like I’ve channeled my inner Cookie Monster as I work remotely and am staying healthy at home.

Instead of cookies, I’m yelling “Me want snacks!”

I’ve heard it from my kids constantly as well.

Although there is no specific definition for “snack” or “snacking,” we generally think of it as the foods and drinks we eat between meals.

The nutritional value of the snack, the timing, frequency and location of those snacks, among other things, are different from person to person.

That makes it hard to study.

Research does tell us that people who snack more often consume more energy each day than others, but we aren’t exactly sure how that relates to body weight. (I may have some insight into that research over the last two months, but we won’t go there).

Many people may think of snacking as a bad thing, but it is good to listen to our bodies and hear when we are hungry.

You don’t need to feel guilty for snacking. Instead, use it to add fruits, vegetables and other fulfilling choices to your diet.

For example, if you find you can’t eat enough fruit with your meals, grabbing an apple or other fruit can be an easy and convenient option when you feel the need for a snack.

So many healthy options are quick, grab-and-go type foods that lend themselves perfectly as a snack. Items with little prep include trail mix with a variety of nuts and seeds, raw fruits and vegetables such as a handful of cherry tomatoes or an apple, dried fruits such as raisins, peanut butter with whole-wheat crackers or a banana, string cheese, Greek yogurt and even plain popcorn.

As you can see, you can find many of these items outside of the “snack” aisle at your local grocery store.

It also gives you a chance to be creative with healthy foods you enjoy. Healthy snacking is a great way to curb hunger between larger meals.

Choosing foods from various food groups will help you feel satisfied and full for longer.

Protein and healthy fats will tell your body you have had enough for now until the next time you eat. A handful of almonds and a serving of grapes will make you feel much more satisfied than grapes alone.

Some people also find it difficult to drink enough water throughout the day. This has been a difficult area for me as I had a routine for water intake pre-COVID-19 that has been thrown off.

Make it a goal to drink one glass of water with your snack, whatever it may be. Not only will it help keep you hydrated, it will also leave you feeling satisfied. You may find you snack less frequently or choose smaller snack portions.

I’ve realized that since being home, it may be helpful to eat meals on a predictable schedule and have snacks at regular times each day. Schedules and routines have been a struggle, so I know this may be difficult, but I promise it will help a little.

Looking forward to snacks and having them planned rather than constantly wandering into the kitchen to graze throughout the day helps limit the junk-type food as well.

Portioning snacks out ahead of time is an easy way to help make smart snack choices while also enjoying the foods you love most. I tried doing this for my children, and when I actually do it, the shouts of “Mom, I’m hungry!” have lessened a little.

The next time you are looking for a snack, use it as an opportunity to add nutrition to your diet through fun, creative and filling snack options.

Here are a few suggestions using foods from each food group:

 

GRAINS

Dry cereal, whole grain crackers, mini rice cakes, sliced bread, mini bagels, graham crackers, whole wheat tortillas

VEGETABLES

Veggie “matchsticks” (thin sticks) (ex. fresh carrots or zucchini), bell pepper rings, cherry tomatoes, steamed or fresh broccoli, green beans, sugar peas, avocados

FRUITS

Apple slices, mandarins, strawberry halves, bananas, pineapple, kiwi, peach, mango, nectarine, melon, grapes, berries, dried apricots

DAIRY

Low-fat cheese slices or string cheese, mini yogurt cups, fat-free or low-fat milk, low-fat cottage cheese

PROTEIN

Egg slices or wedges, peanut butter, bean dip, hummus, slices of lean turkey or chicken, shelled pumpkin seeds

 

If you need other suggestions or information about healthy eating, contact the Extension Office at 859-744-4682. Happy snacking.

Shonda Johnston is the Clark County Extension agent for family and consumer sciences. She can be reached at 859-744-4682 or by email at shonda.johnston@uky.edu.