acidic-fruits-275478_1280We’ve all done it. You plan healthy meals that are low in saturated fats and sugars, but forget to factor in snacks between meals. While it’s a great idea in theory to avoid snacking, in practise we often need an extra little something in the middle of the afternoon or when we get in from work. The trick is, to make sure our snack choices are healthy as well as enjoyable.

Over the last thirty years, the average number of snacks consumed by adults has almost doubled, with snacking by adolescents also showing a significant increase. In many cases, the snack foods and drinks contributing the most calories aren’t particularly nutritious options. However, there are many ways that snacks can be part of a healthy eating plan.

Whole fresh fruits, dried fruits or low-fat granola bars are easy to pick up and carry along with you. Packages of pre-cut vegetables can be stored in the fridge until you need them and eaten with hummus or homemade dressing, or even portioned into snack-sized bags or containers ready to take out with you. Nuts and seeds are a nutritious choice and score extra points as they keep you feeling fuller for longer. If you’re craving crunchy chips, try some popcorn instead, made with whole grains.

It may sound obvious, but eat snacks only when you’re hungry. Try to avoid snacking within an hour of eating a meal, and if you’re eating out of boredom or frustration, try to distract yourself instead. If you take yourself for a walk and still feel hungry, at least you’ll already have burnt off some of the calories you’re about to consume! Another important point is to make sure you keep hydrated. Thirst is often misinterpreted as hunger.

For toddlers and the elderly it’s particularly important to have healthy snacking options, as these age groups often struggle to eat large meals. Children and teens are also more likely to need snacks because of growth and higher activity levels, so be sure to plan accordingly.

Remember that availability often influences food choices. If you keep a cupboard full of cookies, chips/crisps and chocolate/candy, chances are that’s what you’ll reach for when you feel hungry. Which is fine once in a while, but its best to keep that kind of snack as an occasional treat!