Healthy Snacking 101

by Kari Hartel, RD, LD
Program Coordinator, Cooking Matters, Operation Food Search

Americans are now more overweight than ever, and the current obesity epidemic is often attributed to oversized portions. However, while huge portion sizes have likely contributed to this growing public health issue, experts in the field would argue that constant snacking is often to blame for Americans’ expanding waistlines. Couple that with the fact that most of us aren’t getting enough physical activity each day and it’s easy to see why obesity is still plaguing our nation.

Research has found that over the past three decades the average portion size increased by about 12%, but the real contributor to extra calories isn’t how much we’re eating, but how often. Research discovered that we’re eating 29% more often—from 3.8 meals and snacks per day to 4.9 per day. We’re constantly exposed to food everywhere we go and marketing has cleverly made us think we need to be snacking all day long.

However, Americans’ love for snacking doesn’t have to mean we’re all doomed to gain weight. In fact, snacking can be a healthy practice if done in the right way. Try to be cognizant of what you eat, how often you eat and how much you eat. Here are some healthy snacking tips:

Determine whether or not you’re truly hungry or if you’re just reaching for a snack because you’re bored, tired, frustrated or experiencing another cue for emotional eating.
Avoid “mindless munching” where you’re snacking while tackling other tasks and not realizing how much you’re really eating. While at work, keep unhealthy snacks away from your desk and out of your view so you don’t end up going through an entire bag of chips or bowl of candy while working at your desk.

Keep a stash of healthy, low-calorie snacks easy visible. Have washed, cut-up fresh fruit and vegetables in zip-top bags in the front of your fridge at home or the office. Having quick, easy access to healthy snacks will increase the likelihood that you’ll choose those foods over other unhealthy snack staples, such as chips, candy and other high-calorie foods.

Always try to include a fruit or vegetable in your snack choice and select normal portion sizes (a serving of fruit: a piece about the size of a tennis ball).
Keep snacks to 100-150 calories or less. Oftentimes your “snack” is really more like a meal in terms of the amount of calories it contains.
Try to aim for three well-balanced meals a day and one snack, perhaps two if you are exercising vigorously.

If you’re feeling low on energy and that afternoon slump has you feeling tempted to reach for a high-calorie snack fix, go for a brisk 15-30 minute walk instead. Walking will invigorate you and leave you feeling ready to take on the rest of your day.

Check next month’s issue of The Healthy Planet Magazine for “Green Springs Eternal!” featuring Operation Food Search nutritionists and friends modeling spring clothing by local boutiques Rung and Sprung! Learn about Operation Food Search programs Cooking Matters®, Cooking Matters® at the Store, and Operation Backpack. Please join us in the No Kid Hungry® movement to end childhood hunger! www.OperationFoodSearch.org