Raise your hand if you ever get “hangry.” You can’t see it, but I assure you mine was the first one up. In fact, I often joke that if you look up hangry in the dictionary, you’ll find a picture of me.
Maybe breakfast was rushed. A meeting ran over, and lunch was delayed. You worked out harder than usual and didn’t eat enough before. Dinner was late because of your kid’s dance class. Life throws us all kinds of complications that can cause us to be hungrier than usual…and left unchecked, can lead to the dreaded hangry feeling. You know, irritable, moody, angry. True hunger is a sign that our body is low on fuel. If we don’t listen to subtle cues (like that grumbling in the stomach) our body gets a little louder. Feeling hungry can turn up the dial on negative emotions like stress and anger.
But it doesn’t have to be that way! Putting a little extra effort into what and when we eat can prevent all of that. Today I want to focus on Snack Prep. Yep, that’s right. Everyone has heard of Meal Prep by now, but unless you have little kids who have a snack break built into their day, you might not have snack prepping on your mind. But you should!
Before getting into that, I need to clear something up. Lots of people ask me, “Aren’t snacks unhealthy?” Well, sure, some snacks are not very nutritious. But the term “snack” is not the same as “treat.” If you look up the definition of snack, you’ll find something along the lines of: a small portion or amount of food eaten between meals. That’s it. Now, if your usual snacks are “snack cakes” or “snack size” bags of chips, you won’t be getting the most out of your snack. Which is a shame, because snacks can be a great way to fuel your body with nutritious foods.
When we get hungry between meals and don’t have healthful snacks readily available, we either: 1. Don’t eat (possibly leading to that hangry thing) or 2. Reach for whatever is easiest to get. Instinctually our bodies often will lead us to foods high in calories (foods high in sugar and fat) when we are physiologically hungry – yes, there is a reason behind those cravings! That can mean donuts from the break room, a candy bar from the vending machine, or a giant cookie from the coffee shop. Now, I dig a donut or cookie once in a while, but those don’t really provide lasting energy that a well balanced snack can give you.
Instead of succumbing to those temptations, I encourage you to think about using snacks as a way to get foods from actual food groups. Snacks are a great way to get in some extra servings of foods we don’t eat enough of – especially fruits and vegetables! Fruits and veggies provide energy, fiber, vitamins and minerals, and some water. And who couldn’t use a bit more of all of those?
Some fruits that make easy snacks are apples, bananas, orange wedges, mandarin oranges, kiwi, grapes, baby carrots, cucumber slices, and cherry tomatoes. I’m also a big fan of fruit and vegetable squeezes – I like to stash these in my purse, my car, my son’s backpack…you get the picture – so there is always a quick source of nutritious energy available. They are easily digested so they settle well even right before a bout of physical activity, which makes them a regular go-to when my son needs an energy boost right before soccer.
Fruits and vegetables alone can be great snacks to fuel before exercise or bridge a short gap until a meal. If you need something with a little more staying power – say dinner will be pretty late, or you don’t have enough time for a full meal but need energy, try combining food groups. Combining foods high in complex carbohydrates (think fruit, vegetables, whole grains) with protein/fat (foods from the dairy or protein food groups) will provide a mix of nutrients that not only gives you energy now, but also helps that energy last for some time – ideally until your next meal.
A few combined-food snack ideas:
- Apple slices & vanilla yogurt
- Banana slices & peanut butter
- Veggie sticks & hummus
- Fruit squeeze & 100-calorie pack of nuts
- Grapes & cheese stick
- Popcorn & peanuts
- Berries & yogurt with a sprinkle of granola
- Half of a peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread
What are your favorite healthy snacks? Share in the comments below!