Karen Ensle Ed.D., RD, FADA, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County
Eating nutritious snacks is a small step toward improved health and an important topic to consider this time of year with its abundance of family get-togethers and holiday parties. What type of snacks keep you satisfied until your next meal? Many of us arrive home from school or work and head straight to the refrigerator for a snack. There is nothing wrong with moderate snacking for kids as they often have higher activity levels and may need more calories than three meals a day to provide their energy needs.
For children, particularly those who are quite physically active, snacks can help round out their nutritional requirements and provide as much as one fourth of daily calories. For many adults, however, that is not the case. Many Americans lack the recommended minimum of 30 minutes of exercise on a daily basis and extra calories from snacks can add weight. In general, Americans of all ages need to carefully select their snacks so they don’t overdo their calorie intake.
A study conducted at Purdue University found that those who consumed snacks with peanuts were more satisfied than those who ate high carbohydrate snacks like rice cakes. Research shows that a high protein snack has better “lasting” power as opposed to high carbohydrate snacks. Taking the rice cake and adding cheese or peanut butter on it would improve its “staying” quality. Peanuts are a good source of protein, healthy fats, and fiber. All three of these elements help to make a person feel full and satisfied for a longer period of time than other snacks.
When snacking, we often reach for the closest food at hand. Snacks are an opportunity for parents to provide healthy food choices to their children while reinforcing good eating habits. If your cupboard has cookies and chips in it, that is probably what your family likes to eat. However, if there are healthier items in the refrigerator or on the kitchen table, your family will become accustomed to snacking on these foods. The healthiest and simplest choices are basic fresh foods that require little, if any, preparation.
A healthy snack includes foods such as vegetables, fruit, whole grains, dairy products, or lean meat, poultry, or fish. Encourage healthy snacks by keeping fruit and cut vegetables (examples: carrots, cucumbers, celery, peppers, broccoli) handy. How about some carrot and celery sticks with a low-fat yogurt dip, or apple slices with peanut butter? Try some whole grain crackers with cheese or a smoothie made up of vanilla yogurt and fresh fruit in your blender. Other alternatives might be tuna fish on crackers or string cheese and a piece of fresh fruit.
For more information on healthy snacks, download these fact sheets: