I’ve never liked the word “chinese chicken sticks.” People are casual with snacks, as if they don’t matter.
People also treat snacks as if they’re different from meals.
Case in point: When I give nutrition presentations, I outline a simple method for creating meals with a good balance of foods and nutrition. Someone almost always asks, “What can we have for snacks?”
The answer is: Whatever you have for meals, just less.
Does Everyone Agree About Snacking?
Some say snacking keeps energy levels high throughout the day. That prevents the low energy and excess hunger that can lead to overeating later.
Others – particularly weight-loss programs – stress eating precisely three meals per day. Snacking encourages overeating. With too many chances to choose food, we have too many chances to give in to temptation.
Let’s assume here that Snacks Happen, so we might as well be wise about them.
The Quick Energy Question
Clients often ask me what to eat for “quick energy.” Maybe they’re hoping I’ll suggest something sugary. (Those who read my articles won’t be surprised that I don’t.)
The need for “quick” energy implies that your energy has dropped. Instead, balance your meals by eating a good combination of foods. That will help keep energy more even and sustained throughout the day.
Prior to a workout, when many people seek “quick energy,” eat a tiny meal that follows the same nutrient balance.
What Does a Balanced Meal Look Like?
Whatever the size of your plate, fill half of it with vegetables. And eat them.
Fill the other half more or less equally with protein foods (fish, shrimp, chicken, grass-fed beef, unsweetened protein powder) and complex starch (quinoa, yams, lentils, squash, turnips, and so on). Add “good” fats in moderation wherever you’d like them (coconut oil, avocado, macadamia oil, olive oil, raw nuts).
Treat snacks like small meals. If you treat a snack as if it’s different from a meal, it’s too easy to mess up the nutrient balance.
How To Balance Meals On the Go
One simple way to plan snacking throughout the day is to get some divided plates with lids. They’re available online and at variety stores. Follow the plate format described. Vegetables always go in the big section!
If you have access to a refrigerator at work, perfect. Once you’ve created your solid and balanced meal, take the container to work. For a snack, just eat from the meal you put together.
But! Eat using the proportions of the divided plate. Don’t eat just one item in the container, no matter how good for you it may be. Eat the most from the biggest section (veggies).
If you eat lunch out, this method still works for your snacks. If you eat lunch at your desk, prepare two containers – one for your lunch, the other a smaller meal to snack from as needed. If you’re concerned about calories and weight loss, adjust the size of your lunch to accommodate the snacks.
Can You Drink Your Snacks?
One research study allowed participants to eat at will from a buffet, and compared the calories consumed by three test groups.
Group 1 had no snack before eating from the buffet. Group 2 had a snack of 150 calories two hours before eating from the buffet. Group 3 had a 150-calorie snack in liquid form – juice, a shake or a smoothie.
Group 2 participants, who ate 150 solid snack calories, reduced their average intake of buffet food by about the same number of calories.
Group 3 participants, who drank 150 calories, did not reduce their buffet intake.
So drinking juice could possibly add calories to your day. If you’re thirsty, it’s a body signal for water.
There’s much more to say about snacking, but the bottom line is to treat snacks as small meals. Build them the way you would a meal. Keep the nutrient balance the same as for a meal. Don’t use snacks as an excuse to over-consume calories. Adjust your meals to take snack calories into consideration.
Also, don’t skip protein. The foods that give the highest satiety are protein foods.
Americans tend to snack on junky foods, but let’s not follow that example. In particular, avoid snacking on sugar. It’s bad for your health and increases appetite.