November 15, 2020

Easy, Low-Calorie Snacks To Get You Through the Day

Snacking can bring benefits with healthy food choices and a plan

healthy snacks carrots hummus

Snacking isn’t bad if it’s done right.

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Surprised? Don’t be. Munching here and there during the day brings a full plate of benefits. It can curb food cravings, boost energy levels, rev up your metabolism, and spark your mind and muscles.

Planned snacking — with a definite emphasis on “planned” — can even help you maintain a healthy weight or lose unwanted pounds, says registered dietitian Kate Patton, MEd, RD, LD.

“Healthy snacking is a way to feed your body the nutrition it needs every few hours,” explains Patton. “It can leave you feeling more satisfied while maintaining your energy and blood sugar in a steady and balanced way.”

Creating a snack plan

The “snacking” we’re talking about is different than “grazing,” or the unintentional and mindless consumption of whatever food is within reach. It’s not gobbling something down because you’re bored or stressed.

Instead, it’s a deliberate decision to fortify yourself between meals at a time when you feel your body beginning to lag.

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And let’s be clear here: Most of us snack. More than 70% of Americans grab something extra to eat at least once a day, according to the 2023 Food and Health Survey from the International Food Information Council.

“Planning your snacks ahead of time sets you up for success,” says Patton. “Work it into your daily eating plan and how it fits into your overall calorie intake. Then, choose snacks that aren’t high in calories, bad fats, salt or sugar.”

So, what’s a healthy snack that’ll fill and fuel you up without piling on too many calories? Patton has some ideas. Here are 39 potential snacks divided into five categories to get you through the day.

(PLEASE NOTE: An * marks the snacks that have 10 grams or more of protein per serving. An ~ marks the snacks that are “grab and go” and do not require refrigeration.)

Finger food snacks

  • ~ 1/4 cup unsalted nuts, such as almonds, pistachios, walnuts or pecans.
  • ~ 1/4 cup unsalted or lightly salted pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds.
  • * 1/2 cup edamame, shelled.
  • ~ 1/3 cup dried edamame.
  • ~ 1/2 cup roasted chickpeas.
  • ~ 1 small piece of fresh fruit and 10 nuts or 2 tablespoons seeds.
  • 2 clementines or small oranges plus 1 low-fat string cheese.
  • 1 protein bar having at least 10 grams of protein and no more than 200 calories.
  • 3 cups light or air-popped popcorn and 1 low-fat string cheese.
  • ~ Homemade trail mix made with 2 tablespoons each of whole-grain cereal, nuts/seeds and dried fruit.
  • 1 low-fat string cheese and 5 whole-wheat crackers.
  • 1 hard-cooked egg and 5 whole-wheat crackers.
  • 1 cup raw veggies and 1/4 cup hummus or fat-free refried beans.
  • 1 small apple or 3 stalks celery with 1 tablespoon natural peanut or almond butter.
  • * 1 small apple sliced and used to dip in a 1/2 cup of low-fat (1%–2%) cottage cheese sprinkled with cinnamon.

Drinkable snacks

  • * Protein shake made with 1 cup unsweetened almond milk and 1 scoop protein powder.
  • Smoothie made with 1 cup skim milk or unsweetened soy milk, 1/2 a banana and 1/4 cup of berries.
  • ~ 8 ounces fat-free milk or soy milk and 1 small piece of fresh fruit or 3 dried apricots.

Spoonable snacks

  • * 6 ounces fat-free plain or light Greek yogurt and 1 cup berries.
  • * 6 ounces fat-free plain or light Greek yogurt with 1/2 cup fruit and 1 tablespoon chopped nuts.
  • * 6 ounces fat-free plain or Greek yogurt with 1/2 cup whole-grain cereal that contains no more than 5 grams of sugar per serving.
  • ~ 1/2 cup sugar-free pudding with 2 tablespoons powdered peanut butter and 1/2 cup berries.
  • * 1/2 cup low-fat (1%–2%) cottage cheese and 1/2 cup drained canned fruit.
  • * 1/2 cup low-fat ricotta cheese topped with 1/2 cup marinara sauce (serve warm).
  • 1/2 cup cooked oatmeal with 2 tablespoons sliced almonds.
  • 1/2 cup whole-grain cereal (no more than 5 grams of sugar per serving) with 1/2 cup fat-free milk and 1/2 cup berries.

Forks needed

  • * Garden salad with 1/4 cup beans, 1 egg and 1 tablespoon dressing (no more than 40 calories per tbsp).
  • * 1 cup steamed vegetables with 1 ounce melted cheese.
  • 1/2 cup bean salad made with vinaigrette or Italian dressing.
  • * 2 ounces tuna mixed with 2 teaspoons mayo, plus celery and carrots, served on 5 wholewheat crackers.
  • 1 chopped hard-cooked egg mixed with 2 teaspoons mayo served on cucumber slices and 5 whole-wheat crackers.
  • 1 ounce shredded chicken breast served on 5 whole-wheat crackers topped with 2 tablespoons shredded cheese and salsa. (Can be served warm.)

Sandwich-like snacks

  • * 1 light whole-grain English muffin topped with 1/2 cup cooked egg whites or egg substitute and sprinkled with hot sauce.
  • 1 egg on a slice of whole-grain toast.
  • 1 brown rice cake topped with 1 tablespoon natural peanut or almond butter.
  • 1/2 whole-grain English muffin with 1 tablespoon natural peanut or almond butter.
  • * 1/2 whole-grain English muffin with 1/4 cup low-fat cottage cheese or ricotta cheese and sliced tomatoes.
  • * 1/2 turkey sandwich made with 1.5-ounce lean turkey breast, plus mustard, lettuce, tomato and 1 slice of whole-grain bread.
  • 1 whole-grain waffle topped with 2 tablespoons fat-free plain or light Greek yogurt and 1/2 cup berries.

Final thoughts

Consider the above list as nothing more than a starting point for healthy snacking. There’s a seemingly infinite number of food combinations to fit your specific tastes.

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Spend some time reading food labels as you come up with your own snack creations. Try to use fresh ingredients whenever possible and stay away from processed foods high in empty calories, saturated fat, carbs and added sugars. Limit sodium, too.

“Look to pack in the whole grains, fruits, veggies and proteins,” suggests Patton. “Odds are you’ll find endless low-cal options in your cupboard and fridge if you search them out.”

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