Between school, homework, sports, your after-school job, and hanging out with friends,
it may feel like there's no time for healthy eating. And when you do stop to eat,
it's probably tempting to go the quick and easy route by grabbing a burger and fries,
potato chips, or candy.
But it is possible to treat yourself to a healthy snack. In fact, if you have a
hectic schedule, it's even more important to eat healthy foods that give you the fuel
you need to keep going.
Even if you take time to eat three meals a day, you may still feel hungry at times.
What's the answer? Healthy snacks. Snacking on nutritious food can keep your energy
level high and your mind alert without taking up a lot of your time.
Why Healthy Snacking Is Good for You
You may have noticed that you feel hungry a lot. This is natural — during
adolescence, the body needs more nutrients to grow as it should. Snacks are a terrific
way to satisfy that hunger and get all the vitamins and nutrients your body needs.
But you need to pay
attention to what you eat. Stuffing your face with a large order of fries after class
may give you a temporary boost, but a snack this high in fat and calories will only
slow you down in the long run.
To keep energy levels going — and avoid weight
gain — steer clear of foods with lots of added sugars like candy bars
or soda. Look for foods that contain fiber like whole-grain breads, cereals, fruit,
and vegetables and combine them with protein-rich snacks such as peanut butter
or low-fat yogurt or cheese.
Judging Whether Snacks Are Healthy
Choosing healthy snacks means shopping smart. Be cautious of the health claims
on food packages. Here are some things to watch out for:
Just because something is "all natural" or "pure" doesn't necessarily mean that
it's nutritious. For example, "all natural" juice drinks or sodas can be filled with
sugar (which is, after all, a natural ingredient) but all that sugar means they'll
be high in calories and give you little nutrition.
A granola bar is a
good example of a snack that seems healthy. Although granola bars can be a good source
of certain vitamins and nutrients, many also contain a great deal of fat, including
a particularly harmful type of fat called trans fat. And there can
be a lot of sugar in granola cereals and bars. Check the Nutrition
Facts label on the package to be sure.
Be skeptical of low-fat food claims, too. If the fat has been eliminated or cut
back, the amount of sugar in the food might have increased to keep that food tasting
good. Many low-fat foods have nearly as many calories as their full-fat versions.
Whatever claims a food's manufacturer writes on the front of the package, you can
judge whether a food is healthy for you by reading the ingredients and the nutrition
information on the food label.
Smart Snacking Strategies
Here are some ways to make healthy snacking part of your everyday routine:
Prepare healthy snacks in advance. Did you know that you can
make your own granola or trail mix? When you make something yourself, you get to control
the ingredients and put in what's good for you! You also can keep plenty of fresh
fruit and veggies at home to take on the go. Cut up melons or vegetables like celery
and carrots in advance. Keep the servings in bags in the fridge, ready to grab and
Keep healthy snacks with you. Make it a habit to stash some fruit,
whole-grain crackers, or baby carrots in your backpack or workout bag so you always
have some healthy food nearby.
Make it interesting. Healthy snacking doesn't have to be boring
as long as you give yourself a variety of choices. Whole-wheat pretzels with spicy
mustard, rice cakes with peanut butter and raisins, or low-fat fruit yogurt are healthy,
tasty, and easy.
Satisfy cravings with healthier approaches. If you're crazy for
chocolate, try a hot chocolate drink instead of a chocolate bar. An 8-ounce mug of
hot chocolate has only 140 calories and 3 grams of fat. The average chocolate
bar, on the other hand, has 230 calories and 13 grams of fat. Substitute nonfat frozen
yogurt or sorbet for ice cream. If you're craving savory munchies, snack on baked
tortilla chips instead of regular corn chips and pair them with salsa instead of sour
cream. Or satisfy salt cravings with pretzels instead of chips.
Read serving size information. What looks like a small package
of cookies can contain 2 or more servings — which means double or even triple
the amounts of fat, calories, and sugar shown on the label.
Don't slip up after dinner. Evenings can be a tempting time to indulge in sugary,
fatty snacks. If you're really feeling hungry, don't ignore it. Instead, pick the
right snacks to fill the hunger gap. Whole-wheat fig bars, rice cakes, or air-popped
popcorn can do the trick, as can fruit paired with cheese or yogurt.
Treats to Try
Here are a few healthy snacking ideas:
Ants on a log: Spread peanut butter on celery sticks and top
Banana ice: Peel several very ripe bananas, break them into 1-inch
pieces, and freeze the pieces in a sealed plastic bag. Just before serving, whirl
the pieces in the blender with a small amount of water or juice. Serve right away.
Add berries for a different flavor or top with fruit or nuts.
Healthy ice pops: Freeze fresh, unsweetened 100% juice in ice
pop molds or ice cube trays.
Whole-grain pita and hummus: Warm a pita in the oven on low,
then cut it into small triangles. Dip it in a tasty, low-fat hummus. Hummus is available
in yummy flavors like garlic and spicy red pepper. Hummus also makes a tasty dip for
Happy trails mix: Combine 1 cup whole-grain toasted oat cereal
with ¼ cup chopped walnuts and ¼ cup dried cranberries for a healthy
As with everything, moderation is the key to smart snacking. People who eat regular
meals and healthy snacks are less likely to overeat and gain weight than people who
skip meals or go for long periods without eating and then scarf down a large order
It's natural to feel hungrier at certain times — like between a long afternoon
of classes and your swim meet. Knowing how much food your body needs to satisfy this
hunger is critical. A handful of walnuts is great brain food before sitting down to
do that math homework. But a whole bag won't help you add anything — except