To snack or not to snack

August 10, 1999|By Lynn F. Little

Whether it's a doughnut with coffee in the morning, fruit and milk in the afternoon, crackers and cheese to hold you over until dinnertime or a bowl of popcorn while watching TV at night, snacking has become an integral part of the American diet.

[cont. from lifestyle]

A snack, by definition, is a small quantity of food eaten between regular meals. Snacks are increasingly nibbling away at the tradition of "three square meals a day."

Busy schedules and harried lifestyles have produced a new trend called "grazing" - snacking on mini-meals throughout the day to get the food energy we need to keep going.

Children have small stomachs and may not be able to eat enough in three meals to meet their needs. Snacks can provide those necessary nutrients. Teenagers may prefer to eat snacks instead of meals due to busy schedules and social activities.


When you reach for a snack, it's often the food's characteristics that appeal to you rather than the food itself.

Sometimes you crave sweet or salty foods. Other times you want a particular texture like crunchy or creamy. Sometimes you snack just because you are bored.

If you eat three meals per day and you want to eat snacks, make your meals smaller than you need. Select snacks with high nutritional value. They should provide vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein and other essential nutrients - not just empty calories.

Don't think of snacks as EXTRAS, but rather as an important component of your diet.

Snacking doesn't change the amount of nutrients and calories you need, but need to be included in your daily requirement.

If you are a person who prefers to "graze," try to eat the same amount of food for your size, age and activity level as you would when eating full meals.

Plan your snacks. Since snacking often occurs spontaneously, you need to think through your day and try to anticipate times and places most likely to bring on a snack attack.

Take a muffin, pretzels or graham crackers with you when you go to work to avoid an afternoon trip to the vending machine.

When you are away from home and need a snack, look for things low in fat and sugar such as orange juice, plain popcorn, frozen low-fat yogurt, a soft pretzel or a sugar-free drink.

Keep low-fat, low-calorie snacks around the house and at work, instead of high-fat, high-calorie ones. Read the labels when you shop.

If you do eat high-fat, high-calories snacks, serve yourself a smaller portion and leave the rest out of reach. That way, you can control overeating.

When you crave something crunchy, try these low-fat, low-sodium snacks:

Foods that provide a nutritional boost with a satisfying sweet taste include:

The world is full of wholesome, interesting foods that can be prepared and eaten in a variety of ways. Your discerning eye and creative imagination can supply you with many low-fat, nourishing snack ideas so you can have healthful and enjoyable snacks as part of your daily diet.

Maryland Cooperative Extension programs are open to all citizens without regard to race, color, sex, disability, age, religion or national origin.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences extension educator for Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County.

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