Hunger pangs in the middle of the day cause most people to reach for a snack. As you make a run for the vending machines, you try to forget how your parents warned you about the evils of eating between meals. But does this conventional wisdom hold up to nutritional fact?

Most families eat three square meals a day. Large families in the past did well to provide those meals, and they couldn’t spare extra nibbles for everyone. The exception was sweets and other goodies on holidays and special occasions.

Is snacking the root of the obesity epidemic in our country? Maybe your habits have given you a few added pounds. Instead of cutting out all the extra nibbles, consider the choices you make.

Snacking Is in Your Genes

If you ever watch young children at mealtimes, you will notice that they rarely concentrate on cleaning their plates. They usually take a few bites, run off to something that catches their attention, and then they return to the table for more food. Nutritionists call this habit grazing.

Grazing is a genetic remnant of the habits of our early ancestors. They learned to gather enough food for a burst of energy until they got to the next food source. No wonder most of us feel a slight gnaw of hunger between meals.

Just because the body’s energy levels fluctuate hourly doesn’t mean you can chow down all day and not have health issues. When you understand how to make wise choices, it can help you lose weight. It is all about choices and portions.

snack on nuts
Heart-healthy nuts–a perfect snack for controlling hunger pangs.

Unraveling the Myths of Snacking

How many strict rules do you remember about nibbling after meals from your childhood? Maybe you were told it would ruin your appetite or make you fat. Thankfully, only part of those warnings is true.

If you have healthy treats that are 250 calories or less, they can fit perfectly in your daily calorie count. For some, just the word invokes guilty pleasures of processed, sugary foods. Thankfully, your extra treats don’t have to be junk food. You would be surprised at the many options that are tasty, nutritious, and low in calories.

If you are trying to lose weight, a growling stomach is one of your worst enemies. When you pair hunger with the lingering cravings you already fight, they produce a perfect storm for binge eating. A healthy bite, in-between meals, may satisfy you and keep you on track for weight loss.

Learning How to Snack Smart

Before you dive into that box of powdered donuts, remember that snacking is not bingeing. Discovering how to choose the right foods and portion control is key. It is always wise to talk to your doctor and nutritionist about your specific dietary needs.

What are some of the things you crave most during the day? Are you hung up on the sugary treats that leave your energy crashing an hour later? Maybe you can’t resist a salty bag of chips or other calorie wasters in the pantry.

How can you enjoy yummy bites while maintaining a healthy lifestyle? It is all about planning. As you prepare each menu for the week, include healthy extra treat options. Depending on the calorie limit your doctor recommends, aim for quality eats with no more than 250 calories per portion, while 100 calories is even better.

Choosing the Best Snacks

Don’t despair as you may need to rethink your daily sugary soda, candy, or chips intake. Smart nibbling does not mean that you can only munch on iceberg lettuce or those pricey fitness bars. The right foods can be delicious and curb your hunger between meals.

Choose treats that don’t include processed foods. Instead of munching on candy, satisfy your sweet tooth with your favorite fruit or nuts. Consider tasty, natural meals that are high in protein and low in carbs. A small handful of almonds, pistachios, or walnuts eases the salty craving while delivering a punch of protein and heart-healthy fats.

Learn how to trade some of your fatty junk food for healthier options. A nutritionist can offer inspiring suggestions for foods that are best for you to help curb hunger Don’t wait until the urge hits; you must keep single-serving treats handy to grab on the go.

Avoiding Fad Diet Foods

Do you remember when many of your favorite junk foods came out in convenient, 100-calorie packs? You may have thought you could munch on cookies, chips, and candies without guilt. What you didn’t realize was that those were empty calories and were still loaded with unhealthy ingredients.

How about those highly praised diet bars and other seemingly innocent healthy treats? Would you believe that calorie for calorie, you might as well indulge in your favorite candy bar than to eat one of these? The real candy probably tastes better and would be much cheaper anyway.

Choosing whole treat foods like fruit, veggies, grains, or nuts don’t need all the artificial fillers to make them taste great. Many of these heavily processed “diet” snacks depend on fat, artificial flavors, and extra sodium to make them palatable. While you think you are doing well by spending a fortune on these sneaky snacks, they could be making you gain weight.

sugar addiction
Learn the seven signs that indicate you be addicted to sugar.

Forming Your Snacking Strategy

Many doctors and nutritionists recommend that their patients keep a food diary each day. If you do, notice the times you feel hungry, especially between meals. Also, try to identify if there are any specific cravings or are you just binge eating?

You can combat a sweet tooth with fresh strawberries or yogurt covered raisins. This information will be vital for including treats in your weekly meal plans.

When hunger strikes, most people want instant gratification. Vending machine companies and fast food joints prey on this human weakness. If your healthy options are within reach, it is easier to forgo junk food.

Inspiring Snack Ideas

Junk food marketers know how to make their products as appealing and convenient as possible. Your healthy treat options don’t have to be bland or boring.

As you prepare your treats for the coming week, let your imagination be your guide. You should sample nutritious and exotic fruits that you have never tried before. Open your pallet and your mind to new things. Try blending fruits for an exciting taste sensation.

Design an attractive portion of sliced veggies with a low-calorie dip or salsa for fun treat options at any time of the day. Check out books, magazines, and the Internet for delicious treat ideas that the whole family will love. Instead of cavity-forming sugary junk, surprise your kids with a small, portioned container of nuts, cheese, and fruit.

How about a cup of fresh popcorn or celery and peanut butter? Let your kids get involved in choosing healthy treat options. They can give you ideas and help you prepare individual portions.

Children model their eating habits after their parents, so be a good example. While being kind to your health, you can also be helpful to the environment. Instead of resealable plastic bags that end up in landfills, opt for glass, metal, or BPA-safe plastic containers.

Thankfully, they come in a variety of convenient sizes for instant portion control, and they are reusable.

snack on peanut butter
Read ten reasons why peanut butter makes an ideal snack.

Making a Snack Compromise

Choosing to indulge in treats wisely doesn’t mean you will never have your favorite ice cream or chocolaty treat again. As they say, everything in moderation. On special occasions or for a rare treat, you can indulge in your favorite foods.

Don’t beat yourself up if you succumbed to the temptation of a bag of corn chips or a delicious candy bar. Nobody eats perfectly all the time. Just figure the indulgence into your daily calorie intake and strive to do better tomorrow.

Do you crave chocolate? Have two ounces of heart-healthy dark chocolate instead of a whole bag of milk chocolates. If you can’t resist a tasty slice of cake or pie, then eat a small portion or choose sugar-free options.

snack and children
Final Thoughts: Snacking as a Way of Life

Instead of eating three daily meals, some people opt to eat four to six smaller meals about the size of a treat. For some health issues, physicians may recommend such a dietary plan. Before you make any changes to your diet, discuss your medical history and health concerns with your doctor and nutritionist.

No single nutritional plan fits all people. As you get older or have changes in your health, your eating habits may also change. You may need to revamp your treat options and schedule according to your needs.

Life is too short never to enjoy delightful snack options. Even if you make small changes in your treats, it will make a massive difference in how you feel.

Additionally, the scales will reflect the changes. It is possible to replenish your energy with delicious and nutritious snacks and part of a healthy lifestyle.