If you’re anything like me, you can’t avoid the occasional snack. In fact, I have trouble getting through the afternoon without two snacks. At one point I even joined a sort of 30-day bootcamp to cure myself of this “horrible” habit. The issue bothered me so much that, during Oprah Winfrey’s Best Life week this past January, I decided to sit down and fill out one of her weight-loss workbooks to help me on my journey.
My realizations are part of a long life story (one worth telling if anyone out there has the same problem — let me know), but working through the issue helped me realize that I don’t need to consider my snacking as a horrible habit because, for the most part, I choose healthy things like yogurt, fruit and cheese. Two healthy snacks for me may be the lesser of two evils — the angel on my shoulder — and the devil would probably be dressed like a White Castle. So, because snacking plays such a big role in my daily routine, I decided to write this post about improved snack choices. If you’re always craving something salty or you just can’t seem to keep your hands out of the cookie jar, read on! Once you start figuring out what works best for you, the possibilities are endless.
Better option: Glenny’s Soy Crisps — you’ll save on calories and fill up on low-fat soy protein. Crunchy, salty and flavorful, you’ll never miss the grease from the bottom of the bag of Lay’s.
Chips and salsa.
Better option: Keep the salsa, but swap out the chips for medium-sized strips of sliced bell pepper. You still get the heat from the salsa and the crunch from the fresh veggies, but you’ll fill up faster from the healthy fiber in the peppers, and you’ll get a huge dose of vitamin C — more than you would from eating an orange!
Better option: Baked sweet potato spears. Peel 3 medium sweet potatoes and heat your oven to 400. Line a baking sheet with parchment, cut the potatoes into wedges and drizzle with olive oil and seasoning of your choice. Spread in a single layer on the baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes or until browning around the edges. If you want something salty-sweet, drizzle with a bit of honey (serves 4). If you’re at a fast food restaurant and you can’t avoid an order of fries, at least get the small size. It will squash your craving. Resist the temptation to supersize!
Better option: Buy your own raw, unsalted almonds, pumpkin seeds, dried unsweetened cranberries or any other natural ingredients you like, leaving out the candy-coated chocolate. Mix them up at home and create individual portions in small, portable plastic containers (I like GladWare minis best). You’re doing something good for both your body AND the environment by packing reusable containers rather than plastic baggies or one-time to-go packaging.
Better option:Quaker Oatmeal To Go. Although these yummy breakfast bars have 220 calories, if you’re craving something soft and sweet, just one of these will fill you up with 5 grams of fiber per square. You won’t be tempted to eat the whole box, as you might with a pack of Oreo cookies. Score!
Better option: Dark chocolate, preferably with 70% cocoa content or more. It’s loaded with antioxidants, and lots of varieties come in clearly marked portions so that you can break off a hunk and savor it slowly as a special treat. My fave: Vosges Creole Bar. You’ll want to hide this from everyone else in the house it’s so good!
Better option: Prunes. Don’t laugh! Have you ever actually tried one? The individually wrapped Sunsweet Ones are so good, I crave them like I do dessert. If you’re into anything sweet and gummy or chewy, try these — they’re all natural and will provide you with a healthy burst of energy from the complex carbohydrates. Can’t say that about gummy bears or licorice now can you!
Anything from the bakery case at Starbucks.
Better option: Hostess 100 Calorie Packs Cinnamon Streusal Muffins. Keep a pack in your purse, and any time you get that craving for something sweet and cake-like, you can indulge. No one has ever gotten fat by eating 100 calories of anything.
Bagel chips (my weapon of choice).
Better option: Baby carrots dipped in hummus. They’re so crunchy, these little geniuses satisfy big moments of stress when all you want to do is chomp down and chew furiously!
Processed sandwich crackers.
Better option: Slice your own choice of low-fat cheese (about one ounce) and make a cheese and cracker platter on a salad-sized plate. Bonus points if you use whole wheat crackers and garnish with a few grapes!
Better option: Almost any whole grain cereal will give you more bang for your calorie buck than granola. Even tasty, all-natural granolas are high in calories, so if you’re trying to watch your waistline, granola unfortunately is not your friend. Try Kashi Go-Lean Crunch! or MultiGrain Cheerios — I’m sure they’ll fit the bill.
Nuts, pretzels or whatever’s on the bar in front of you.
Better option: Order something off the appetizer menu and share it with your buds. Lettuce wraps will offer a nice crunch, as will lots of Mediterranean tapas plates, such as crunchy pita chips and vegetable giardenara. You’ll feel more satisfied if you’re eating “real food,” and any protein or vegetables you eat will offset the sugar in your cocktail.
Better option: Sprinkle some grated Parmesan cheese over air-popped popcorn. You get a whole-grain snack and cheesy flavor, without the empty calories of a potato chip.
Better option: Whole wheat Toufayan pitettes (small-sized pitas) topped with sliced tomato and part-skim mozzarella cheese. Pop it in a toaster oven, sprinkle with a little oregano, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and you’ll be hooked! Mix up the toppings until you find your favorite, and this could even end up as a dinner option on busy weeknights.
Better option: You can still have the nachos, just make them yourself (never order them in a restaurant unless you’re sharing with about eight people). Use baked tortilla chips and low-fat shredded cheese, and pile on the beans, veggies and salsa. Dollop on a little guacamole or reduced-fat sour cream if you must, but be sure to fill up on the star of the show, the beans and veggies, not on the nutritionally devoid condiments.
Better option: Spanakopita, an authentic Greek appetizer with spinach, cheese and onions. If that’s not on the menu when you’re eating out, you could also try an appetizer-portion salad with Parmesan, blue or feta cheese. Although they’re full-fat cheeses (you can guarantee the mozzarella is too), they have more flavor so you’ll need less to satisfy your craving.
A tub of Moose Tracks.
Better option: Low-fat frozen yogurt. Believe it or not, Ben & Jerry’s can be your friend. If you switch from the regular ice cream to the fro-yo, you’re saving almost 100 calories a serving in some instances! In just one week, that alone is a significant reduction in calories, and you’ll quickly see a slimmer you.
Bagel with cream cheese.
Better option: Whole wheat toast or a whole grain English muffin with a smear of peanut butter. You still get that hot, toasty, creamy goodness, but without the 500-calorie deli-size bagel, which is often made with enriched flour, not whole grains. If you really want the bagel, split it. Surprise a coworker — you’ll make someone’s day!
Coffee with cream, or a cappuccino.
Better option: Try tea with hot milk (sans water). Heat a coffee mug filled with milk for two minutes, add sweetener if you wish and steep a bag of decaf black tea according to the package instructions. It’s delicious, calming and creamy/foamy — if you’ve never tried it, you don’t know what you’re missing!
Better option: Plain, non-fat Greek yogurt with a drizzle of honey and sliced strawberries. Now, I know that yogurt is not a “bad” snack, especially if you’re trading up from something more fatty and high in calories. But mixed-fruit yogurts are often packed with sugar. Greek yogurt, if you’ve never tried it, is deliciously rich and creamy, and if you play around enough with the healthy toppings, this may even become a nice breakfast option for you.
Better option: If you want the coffee, order a skinny iced mocha. If all you really want is something cold and creamy, try making your own smoothie with fruit, milk, ice, plain low-fat yogurt and a squeeze of honey. In that case, your list of options is as long as the kinds of fruit available at the supermarket.
Better option: Ask for a nice glass of white wine. Unlike reds, whites are served at cooler temperatures. If you’re at an outdoor restaurant on a warm spring evening, a crisp glass of Sauvignon Blanc is a thousand times better for you than an 800-calorie alcohol binge. If it’s the tequila you’re after, try a Skinnygirl margarita — they’re becoming wildly popular at bars across the country, and they taste great.
Dairy Queen Blizzard or McDonald’s McFlurry.
Better option: Just opt for a twist cone or frozen yogurt in a cup with nuts and strawberries as your topping (as long as the berries aren’t doused in that gelatinous red syrup). If what you really want in the ice cream are the candy bits, walk right out of the ice cream shop and get yourself a dark chocolate bar!
Creamsicle, Dreamsicle, etc.
Better option: There are lots of “healthy” popsicle options out there these days, so if that’s what you’re in the mood for, try a sugar-free fudgesicle or Edy’s Fruit Bars, which have real fruit and vitamin C. You can also try rolling damp grapes in a bit of sugar or Splenda and freezing them for a cool, refreshing treat. Hot
Better option: Skinny sugar-free cinnamon latte. You don’t have to avoid the coffee run OR fall prey to the heavy, calorie-laden sugar bombs. Many coffee shops these days offer sugar-free syrup options, and some even use 2% milk as the standard rather than whole milk. (I’d go for skim, but reduced-fat is at least better than full-fat if you’re trying to wean yourself off slowly.)
Better option: Progresso Reduced Sodium Italian-Style Wedding soup. It’s warm, comforting, will fill you up and the mini meatballs and pasta inside are as close to chili as you’ll get without going way over your calorie budget, if you’re looking for something quick and easy to heat up. Broth-based soups are great snack options, but remember to say away from anything cream-based.
Hot pretzel at the mall or baseball park.
Better option: At the mall, stop by the Asian stand in the food court and ask for an order of steamed vegetables with brown rice. It will stay with you 10 times longer than hot dough and mustard. At a ball game, opt for the peanuts — they’ll take you longer to eat out of the shell, and they’re a great source of protein.
Mac & cheese.
Better option: You can eat pasta, but please get rid of the blue box. Boil whole wheat macaroni, spaghetti or the noodle of your choice, and top with good quality olive oil, salt, fresh cracked pepper and a small amount of cheese. To bump up the fiber content even more, steam and toss in broccoli, cauliflower or asparagus tips. You’ll be so much more pleased with yourself after eating something healthy than you will as you’re scraping fake orange powder off of the bottom of a pot.
Now that you have a bunch of different ideas to get you going, once the snack attack hits you can also start to work on being present in the moment, identifying what it is you want and consistently making better choices. Are you even hungry, or are you just stressed out, anxious or bored? Once you’ve made peace with whatever is on your mind, run through your options and weigh the pros and cons. If you really want and need food, try out a healthy alternative. Or, if you’re confident you’re tuned into your true hunger signals and you don’t think you can go without the real thing this time, fine. Have a few bites of what you’re really craving: A slice of thin-crust pizza chock full of veggies or a taste of rich, decadent chocolate cake. Taste it, savor it, don’t feel guilty about it and move on. The idea is to recognize your hunger and honor it with something good for you, no matter what you crave.