Snacking is a dieter’s trick to curb cravings and boost metabolism, and it’s great for anyone who wants to avoid excessive hunger, fuel their physical activity and avoid overeating during meals.
“Snacking” is different than “grazing.” Snacking is intentional and planned, while grazing is unintentional and unplanned.
“Snacking is important way to constantly feed your body with the nutrition it needs every few hours,“ says registered dietitian Kate Patton, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD.
“When you allow for healthy snacking in addition to your meals, you’ll feel more satisfied and can maintain your energy and blood sugar in a more steady and balanced way throughout the day,” she says. “Just make sure your snacks aren’t too high in calories, bad fats, salt or sugar.”
Besides planning your snacks ahead of time to set yourself up for success, it’s also important to consider your overall calorie intake for the day and make sure to account for snacks you eat — by adjusting your main mealtime calories and vice versa, she says.
Here are some of Patton’s favorite low-cal snacks to go for that’ll give you energy and fill you up on the fly.
An (*) marks the snacks that contain 10g of protein or more per serving and a (~) marks the snacks that are “grab and go” and do not require any refrigeration.
- ¼ cup unsalted nuts, such as almonds, pistachios, walnuts or pecans ~
- ¼ cup unsalted or lightly salted pumpkin or sunflower seeds ~
- ½ cup edamame, shelled*
- ¼ cup dried edamame ~
- ½ cup roasted chickpeas ~
- 1 small piece of fresh fruit and 10 nuts or 2 Tbsp seeds ~
- 2 Clementines or small orange and 1 low-fat string cheese
- Protein bar containing at least 6 grams protein and no more than 150 calories
- 3 cups light or air-popped popcorn and 1 low-fat string cheese
- Homemade trail mix made with 2 Tbsp each of whole grain cereal, nuts/seeds, dried fruit ~
- 1 low-fat string cheese and 4 woven whole wheat crackers
- 1 hard-cooked egg and 4 woven whole wheat crackers
- 1 cup raw veggies and ¼ cup hummus or fat-free refried beans
- 1 small apple or 3 stalks celery with 1 Tbsp natural peanut or almond butter
- 1 small apple sliced and used to dip ½ cup low-fat (1-2%) cottage cheese sprinkled with cinnamon*
- 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, ½ banana and ¼ cup berries
- 8 ounce UHT fat-free milk or soy milk and 1 small piece fresh fruit or 3 dried apricots ~
- 6 ounces fat-free plain or light Greek yogurt and 1 cup berries*
- 6 ounces fat-free plain or light Greek yogurt with ½ cup fruit and 1 Tbsp chopped nuts*
- 6 ounces fat-free plain or Greek yogurt with ½ cup whole-grain cereal (no more than 5 grams sugar per serving)*
- ½ cup sugar-free pudding with 2 Tbsp powdered peanut butter and ½ cup berries ~
- ½ cup low-fat (1-2%) cottage cheese and ½ cup drained canned fruit (canned in juice)*
- ½ cup low-fat ricotta cheese topped with ½ cup marinara sauce (serve warm)*
- ½ cup cooked oatmeal with 2 Tbsp sliced almonds
- ½ cup whole grain cereal (no more than 5gm sugar per serving) with ½ cup fat-free milk and ½ cup berries
“Again, remember to limit ingredients like refined grains, sugar, saturated fat, and sodium to ensure that snacking benefits your overall health instead of being a source of empty calories,” Patton adds.
- Garden salad with ¼ cup beans, 1 egg and 1 Tbsp light dressing (no more than 40 calories per Tbsp)*
- 1 cup steamed vegetables with 1 ounce melted reduced-fat (2%) cheese*
- ½ cup bean salad made with light vinaigrette or Italian dressing
- 2 ounces tuna mixed with 2 tsp low-fat mayo, celery, carrots, served on 4 woven wholewheat crackers*
- 1 chopped hard-cooked egg mixed with 2 tsp light mayo served on cucumber slices and 4 woven whole-wheat crackers
- 1 ounce shredded chicken breast, served on 4 woven whole-wheat crackers, topped with 2 Tbsp low-fat shredded cheese and salsa (can be served warm)
- 1 light whole-grain English muffin topped with ½ 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 Tbsp of natural peanut or almond butter
- ½ whole-grain English muffin with 1 Tbsp of natural peanut or almond butter
- ½ whole-grain English muffin with ¼ cup low-fat cottage or ricotta cheese and sliced tomatoes*
- ½ turkey sandwich made with 1.5-ounce lean turkey breast, mustard, lettuce, tomato and 1 slice whole-grain bread*
- 1 whole-grain waffle topped with 2 Tbsp fat-free plain or light Greek yogurt and ½ cup berries
“These are, of course, some recommended healthy snack ideas, but you don’t have to stop with this list,” Patton says. “By reading food labels and being creative, you can enjoy your own creations, too. Just pack in the whole grains, fruits and veggies and proteins, and rule out the carbs, sugars and processed foods and you’ll find endless low-cal options in your own cupboard and fridge.”