10 Tips for Healthier Snacking
I’ve had a lot of experience preparing and eating food, tracked and not, in ways that support weight loss. ALL the foods, by the way. I enjoy pizza, hamburgers, tacos, steak, ice cream, chocolate, chips, and wine weekly. Some of those are enjoyed daily, actually.
Snacking smart helps keep me on track with my goals. I feel satisfied, have more energy, and avoid getting “hangry” throughout the day. How I snack has proven pivotal in my weight loss success. I no longer show up to the dinner table ravenous with hunger, and have put an end to mindlessly munching on handfuls of this or that in passing. I recognize and honor my body’s signals to stop eating when I am full.
Perhaps by sharing what I know about healthier snacking, I can help you on your weight loss journey, too. Here are some tips I’ve learned, and practice daily, to keep my snacking mindful and under control.
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- Plate Your Food.
How many times have you sat down with a bag of chips and a jar of queso, a box of crackers and a tub of hummus, or a bag of pretzels and a jar of peanut butter to find yourself sitting there in what seems like the blink of an eye, with empty containers, a sick stomach, and no recollection of what just happened? BEEN THERE! I mean, it’s crazy easy to just keep chowing down when the food is right there, within arms reach, begging to be eaten.
Before you retreat to your recliner, cradling bags, boxes, and jars of deliciousness in your arms…Grab. A. Plate. Put a couple spoonfuls of this, a couple handfuls of that, and a few of those on a damn plate, and put the rest back where it came from. Out of sight, out of mind. You’re much less likely to mindlessly shovel thousands of calories into your mouth this way. I even find I pay more attention while I eat my plated food, actually enjoying it rather than eating without even realizing it, distracted by my phone, Netflix, or what have you.
- Turn Unfinished Meals into Later- in-the-Day Snacks.
I’ve noticed when I’m tracking my food, sometimes I have the mentality of, “well, I weighed, prepared, and logged all this – I’m damn well gonna eat it!” It’s a very JOEY DOESN’T SHARE FOOD situation when my kids ask for bites, too (that’s for my fellow Friends fans out there). Go find your own! But I’m getting better about putting the fork down when I’m satisfied. It’s hard, but I always feel better!
Besides the obvious plus of not feeling lethargic or overly stuffed, this gives me “bonus” food to eat later, without any extra calories than I’d already planned on when I made it. This one may seem like it applies to meals more so than snacks in particular, however, I’ve enjoyed plenty of evening snacks made up of my delicious leftover dinners – think, cold pizza…yum! – that this tip comes in extra handy when it comes to snacking! When your healthy, “leftover meal” snack is ready to go, you’ll be more likely to eat that instead of the cookies in your pantry.
- Prioritize Protein.
Getting adequate protein in your diet can seem daunting in the beginning, simply because you’re learning. You’re learning how much protein works for your body, and what foods meet your nutritional goals while also satisfying your cravings.
Trust me when I say it does get easier! Whether or not you’re formally tracking and logging food, a quick glance at the nutritional facts on food labels can be helpful here. Getting enough protein will help you feel fuller longer, which will cut down on overboard snacking and overeating at mealtimes.
- Practice Volume Eating.
This sounds fancy, but I’m just talking about loading up your plate (because we plate our snacks now, if you’ve learned anything thus far) with high volume, low calorie fillers like fruits and vegetables. For instance, you can have 2 servings of carrots for a micronutrient-packed 70 calories, 100 grams of cucumber for a measly FIFTEEN calories, a freaking POUND of strawberries for 150 calories, 100 grams of watermelon for a low 30 calories, or an entire large zucchini for just 55 calories.
You may say, “but Rachelle, I hate veggies.” To which I’ll say, “no you don’t, you just don’t know how to prepare them.” for meals I’ll sauté, air fry, or roast veggies with a teensy bit of oil and seasoning. Get yourself some Kernel Seasoning to sprinkle on raw veggies. I love the parmesan garlic, sour cream and onion, and ranch flavors the best for this, but they’re all good. I no longer require ranch or hummus with raw vegetables, because this is so good and hits the spot. I still have dip with veggies when the mood strikes, of course, but it’s just not absolutely necessary anymore.
Pair your obscene amount of fruit and/or veggies with a protein like cheese, deli meat, or yogurt, etc, and you’ve got yourself a filling, healthy snack.
- Look Ahead.
I’m not saying you need to know a week’s worth of snacks ahead of time, because that sounds overwhelming – especially if you’re just starting on your path to healthier eating. I’m 2 years down that road, regularly meal prep lunches for my week ahead each week, and I still don’t know exactly what snacks I’ll be eating throughout the day.
But now I am aware of the calories and macronutrients in the snacks I regularly keep on hand. This knowledge comes in handy so I can plan ahead and balance out my day based on what I know I’ll be eating for lunch and dinner. For instance, if I know I’ll be going out for dinner and having a drink or two I’ll choose snacks with fewer calories and carbs earlier in the day. On the other hand, if I know I’m grilling chicken and corn for dinner I may have a higher calorie, higher fat snack.
I regularly “save” my more exciting snacks and treats for the evenings, after the kids are in bed, my chores are done, and I can relax a little. That way I can actually enjoy it uninterrupted, without having to share it or inhale it rushing between fetching goldfish crackers for the kids and hustling one of them to the bathroom. I like to savor my desserts!
- Make Note that Some “Healthy” Snacks can be High in Calories.
When I started weighing my food at the start of my macro-tracking journey, I was shook by how little the recommended “serving size” was for some foods. One serving of hummus, for example, is 2 tablespoons, or 28 grams. Let me tell you, this looks meager on your plate, sitting next to your sad little pile of veggies or your meticulously counted out wheat thin crackers. You might think, well, just have more than a serving then. Sure, you could do that – just know that each serving of hummus alone contains 70 calories, 5 or 6 grams of fat, and a paltry 2 grams of protein.
Same goes for 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, which weighs somewhere around 30 grams depending on the brand and type. I feel like 2 tbsp of peanut butter does not a PB&J make, but every serving has a whopping 190ish calories, 15-18 grams of fat, and just 7 grams of protein. Granola is another one. Sure, it can be a healthy and delicious snack topping or stand alone snack, but one serving can also be well over 200 calories.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t eat granola, hummus, or peanut butter – I eat them almost daily, and “good fat” blah, blah, blah – but I am saying pay attention to how much you dish out. With certain foods, small volumes make a big difference when it comes to your caloric bottom line. Especially if your goal is weight loss, it’s something you want to be aware of.
- Measure/Weigh Your Food.
At least temporarily. I’m not saying forever, because perhaps that’s not feasible or healthy for you.
I would suggest measuring, weighing (I use this scale), and logging your food (I use the free version of the MyFitnessPal app) for 2-3 days to get a feel for what a serving size is and how much food you’re actually eating. If tracking works out for you, keep it up. If you hate it with a passion, stop and carry on with the knowledge of portion size you gained over the previous few days.
If you choose not to weigh and track full time, I’d still suggest an occasional few days here and there to check-in with your food scale. This is to verify that your eyeballed portion sizes are still accurate.
Bonus Tip: A great way to keep portion control in check is to purchase individual serving containers of snacks and treats, if available. You can also repackage big boxes and bags into “snack size” containers for convenience. Individually packaged portions of potato chips, pretzels, mixed nuts, popcorn…anything, really…come in handy when you’re reaching for something but don’t want to find yourself snacking until things go black. If you know, you know.
- Don’t Buy It or Make It.
There are certain foods I know I struggle with saying no to. I can’t not cram my mouth full of vanilla wafers until I’m pouring the delicious crumbs from the bottom of the bag directly into my mouth. Because I’m classy like that. Doritos are another, with their magical, crack-sprinkled, crunchy, heaven-on-earth cheesy-ness. So, I don’t buy them. If they’re not in the house I can’t eat them, right? I’m sure this sounds like restriction, which is a no-no when it comes to adherence to a “diet,” however, I still occasionally have these foods. They’re just not at my fingertips on a regular, day-to-day basis.
Once you pop, you can’t stop? Better to just leave the Pringles on the grocery store shelf. Unable to have just one? Maybe don’t bake a whole pan of brownies. Too often find yourself staring at an empty tray? Perhaps you shouldn’t make the Rice Krispie treats.
I understand sometimes there are circumstances where temptation is staring you in the face, like at parties, for instance. But at least you’re saving the indulgence for fun, special occasions. You’re less likely to eat an entire batch of something at social gatherings because people are around and you’ll be happily distracted with conversation and laughter. As opposed to when you’re alone in the dark, or hurriedly passing through the kitchen on a stressful day.
- Stay Hydrated.
Did you know your body often mistakes thirst for hunger? Read more about the biology behind it here, but suffice to say it does. So before you grab for a snack, or just as a general rule before having a snack or meal, slam a glass of water. This will help curb hunger and prevent overeating.
I suggest aiming to drink half your body weight (in pounds) in ounces of water each day. This isn’t about “tricking” your body into thinking it’s not hungry. In fact, your mind is occasionally tricking you into thinking you are hungry when you’re really just thirsty. I’m certainly not telling you to deprive yourself when you are legitimately hungry, but I am begging you to give your body what it needs to function and feel its best.
- Set Goals and Limits.
Moderation is always hard, but it’s particularly tough when it comes to snacking. I knew from the very beginning of my fitness journey that there was no way I would be completely cutting out any of my favorite foods. I like food and happiness way too much for that. I also knew, in order to make progress toward my goals, I probably needed to refrain from eating a bag of tortilla chips with salsa every Friday and Saturday night. I decided to set weekly goals to use for snacking guidance.
At the beginning of the week I would set snacking goals. My goals at the time were things like “2 servings of chips per week.” I would count out the number of chips labeled as a serving on the bag, or grab and plate 1-2 handfuls of chips and count that as a serving. I’d put an “X” in the box for that day under the “chips” column of my homemade habit tracker, and know I had 1 of my 2 servings for the week left to enjoy.
This system worked, became a “fun” way for me to keep track of what I had eaten, and kept me from going overboard on my favorite foods. Fourteen months later – without weighing, measuring, or logging meals or snacks – I was nearly 20 pounds leaner, and a whole lot wiser about snacking.
Getting to the point of defaulting to “healthier” snacks throughout the day is certainly a process. For me it took conscious effort, time, and goal setting, but it’s gotten more automatic to reach for the fruits, veggies, and protein.
I’ve found, like a muscle, my willpower gets stronger the more I use it. Recognizing the control you can and do have over your body and mind is important. Actually exercising that control to support your goals can be more empowering and motivating than you could imagine.
What are your best healthy snacking tips? What are your favorite healthy snacks? Help a sister out and drop them in the comments below. Follow me on Instagram to see what I snack on throughout the day, every day in my Food Diary stories and highlights!
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