Did you know that February is National Snack Food Month? Unfortunately snacking has become a term synonymous with munching on highly processed “snack” foods such as chips, cookies, candy bars…basically just about everything found in a typical vending machine. The truth is smart snacking can actually be a healthy way to increase important nutrients often lacking in our diets, boost energy levels throughout the day, fuel workouts and help prevent overeating at meal times by keeping hunger at bay.  Following these simple tips can help you choose smart snacks that you can feel good about eating while still satisfying your cravings.

Pair Fiber + Protein and/or Fat:  Pairing a fiber-rich food with lean protein and/or healthy fat helps boost satiety, provide balanced nutrition and stabilize blood sugars for optimal energy. You can build mix and match your own snacks by pairing a food with fiber (ex: fruit, veggie sticks, whole grain crackers, whole-grain cereal, whole grain toast) with a protein and/or healthy fat containing food (Ex:  peanut butter, string cheese, hard boiled eggs, plain Greek yogurt, avocado, hummus).  Some great examples of “all in one” snacks include a palmful of nuts or half cup shelled edamame, both of which contain fiber, protein and healthy fats.

Focus on Foods to Increase: Snacks are a great way to incorporate more of the foods that so many of us are lacking in our diets, such as fruits and vegetables, low fat dairy or dairy substitutes and healthy fats. Examples of snacks with these foods include veggie sticks with low fat hummus, a piece of fruit with a spoonful of almond butter, ½ cup of low fat cottage cheese with fresh berries or pineapple or a smoothie with frozen fruit, a scoop of plain Greek yogurt, a handful of greens (spinach works well) and a splash of almond milk. With vegetables it’s important to do some prep-work ahead of time so we are more likely to reach for them. Chopping up veggies of choice (carrots, bell pepper, broccoli, sugar snap peas etc.) and putting them in a Tupperware container in the center of the fridge can help.

Cure Cravings Wisely: There are many healthier ways to satisfy cravings. If craving something salty, whole grain crackers with string cheese, a palmful of whole-grain tortilla chips with 2 Tbsp. guacamole, ½ a whole wheat English muffin toasted with 1 slice cheese and sliced tomato and veggie sticks with 1 Tbsp. ranch dressing are examples of healthier choices. For a sweet tooth, fruit is always a great choice….you can also try dipping strawberries in plain yogurt sweetened naturally with a drizzle of honey. Additional ideas for satisfying a sweet tooth include a handful of nuts mixed with a sprinkle of mini dark chocolate chips (add dried cherries or cranberries if desired), a banana or rice cake topped with 1 Tbsp. peanut butter and a sprinkle of mini chocolate chips, 1 cup of cherries topped with a spoonful vanilla yogurt and dusting of cocoa powder, 1 small square dark chocolate with a cup of low fat milk and no-sugar added applesauce topped with cinnamon and a sprinkle of pecans.

Portion Control: Eating out of the bag or original packaging, especially when distracted in front of the TV or computer, almost always leads to overeating. Portioning and plating snacks, and as much as possible sitting at the table, is an easy way to help control our portion sizes and prevent “mindless” snacking. We don’t have to completely give up favorite “less-healthy” snacks (such as chips, sweets etc.) however it is especially important to portion these snacks and focus on choosing more smart snacks most often.

Best “On-the-Go” Choices:  Having portable smart snacks with us can help prevent vending machine munchies. Trail mix is a great all-in-one snack that provides healthy fiber, fats and protein. You can easily make your own by mixing nuts of choice with dried fruit and if desired whole grain cereal and sprinkle chocolate chips.  Packing fresh fruit or snack-size bag of whole grain crackers with individual peanut or almond butter packets is also a great choice. You can also choose a healthier granola bar that meets smart snacking requirements. Try to choose one that has 5 or more grams protein, 3 or more grams fiber and less than 10 grams of sugar. One of my favorites is the “Kind” brand bar with protein.