Snacking has gotten a bad rap. We all get hungry between meals, and there’s nothing wrong with eating something to calm the stomach growl. It’s the foods you choose to snack on that make the difference. Choosing a snack like whole grain crackers and cheese, gives you energy, calcium, protein and fiber. Eating a sleeve of cookies full of fat and sugar provides your body with nothing but a whole lot of empty calories.

Every healthy snack you serve or make available, so your children grab it for themselves, is a teachable moment about good food choices.

The average American eats just over two snacks a day and gets about a quarter of their calories from snacks, so you can see how what you snack on between meals on a regular basis can either help or harm your health.

A Game Changer

Healthy snacks may not strike you as being as easy or tasty as eating something from a vending machine, but they can be both.

Having foods on hand that can be made into healthy snacks can be a game changer for you and your family. Snacking on junk food can lead to weight gain and raise the risk of developing diet-related health problems. Healthy snacks, in contrast, are a good way to calm those between-meal hunger pangs, and they will also help you and your kids eat great-tasting food that provides the nutrients your body needs for good health and energy.

The most filling snacks consist of a carbohydrate like fruits, veggies or whole grains, and a protein food like yogurt or nut butters.

If you still need more convincing, here are four good reasons to be picky about what you eat for snacks.

  • Eating healthy snacks is like keeping a slow-burning fuel in your body all day. They help banish the sluggishness you may feel several hours after eating too much at one meal, and if your snack includes protein, it can give you a lift mentally, too.
  • Healthy snacks help stabilize your blood sugar. After a meal, your blood sugar rises for three to five hours before it begins to fall. If it gets too low, you can start to feel groggy. Reaching for a sugary snack may feel like the thing to do, but sugar makes your blood sugar — glucose — go up quickly, but then it falls just as fast. Small, healthy snacks, particularly those high in fiber and protein — like cheese, peanut butter and whole grain crackers and cereal — are digested slowly. They keep your blood sugar level more stable.
  • Snacks are an opportunity to improve your diet. The average American only eats about half of the recommended servings of whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Well-chosen snacks provide an opportunity to improve on that. The handful of nuts and raisins or carrots and hummus you eat as a snack adds a serving of fruits or veggies to your diet.
  • Snacking can prevent overeating. When you start feeling hungry a couple of hours before your next meal, eating a healthy snack can keep you from getting so hungry that you overeat when it’s meal time. The most filling snacks consist of a carbohydrate like fruits, veggies or whole grains, and a protein food like yogurt or nut butters.
  • The easiest way to kick the junk food habit is to have the makings for healthy snacks on hand. That means having certain staples in your pantry, fridge and freezer. Portion snack foods and place them in small plastic bags or plastic containers so they can easily be stuffed in your purse or desk drawer, or your child’s lunchbox or backpack.

    Snacks for Kids

    Getting into the habit of reaching for healthy snacks is particularly important for children. It prepares them for a lifetime of healthy eating as well as filling them up with the kind of food their bodies need.

    Every healthy snack you serve or make available, so your children can serve it to themselves, is a teachable moment about good food choices. Having healthy snacks on hand also sets the stage for a healthy diet that will follow them into adulthood and has the advantage of increasing kids’ exposure to foods they might not otherwise try. Food preferences are set early in life, and snacks are a good way to introduce foods in small quantities and in a low-key way.

    With practice, healthy snacking will become as easy as dropping a dollar in the vending machine.

    Kids like fun snacks. Make use of the resources at your fingertips, and search the Internet for cute, creative, nutritious snack ideas. For example, lay pretzel sticks out like the trunk and limbs of a tree and use green grapes as the leaves. (For preschoolers, grapes should be sliced lengthwise to prevent choking.) Fill a celery stick with peanut butter and let your child arrange whole grain Goldfish crackers or raisins on top. Put several chunks of fruits on a wooden stick (skewer or popsicle) and serve fruit kabobs.

    Kids prefer raw vegetables to cooked ones, so have an assortment of cut up vegetables available — even if you have to use low-fat ranch dip as an enticement — to encourage them to snack on veggies.

    Whether at home, in the car or at the office, a stash of healthy snacks will keep you on the right track and away from the vending machines or fast food outlets.

    With practice, healthy snacking will become as easy as dropping a dollar in the vending machine.

    Here's How To Get Started
    Buy a good, BPA-free water bottle for yourself and everyone in your family. Having a personal water bottle always available will save money in the long run and countless calories. Keep small plastic bags and containers on hand to pack your snacks.

    Here are a few snack food combinations to consider to get you moving in the right direction:

  • Apple slices with peanut butter
  • Celery sticks with hummus
  • Nuts and dried fruit
  • Baked tortilla chips and salsa
  • Baked tortilla or pita chips and bean dip
  • Whole grain crackers and cheese or peanut butter
  • Whole grain breakfast cereal and raisins
  • Nonfat yogurt with fresh or frozen blueberries
  • Low-fat cottage cheese with canned sugar-free peaches
  • Homemade trail mix (Create your own by combining foods such as nuts, dried fruit, dry cereal and dark chocolate bits.)
  • What follows is a shopping list of healthy snack foods to keep on hand as pantry, fridge and freezer staples. Copy, print and add to it as your repertoire of nutritious snacks grows. The foods on this list can be combined in a variety of ways to create snacks that you and your family will like — or new snacks that will soon become favorites. For example, if you stock cheese, peanut butter, whole grain crackers and fresh fruit, there are several snack combinations you can make. Encourage your kids to experiment and create combinations they like.

    Take this list to the grocery store, and let it steer you away from the chips and cookies. Use it as a reminder to restock items as needed.

    Snack Staples for the Pantry
    Nuts and seeds
    Whole grain crackers (First ingredient should be “whole” grain.)
    Graham crackers
    Rice cakes
    Peanut, almond or soy butter
    Canned fruit (No added sugar)
    Dried fruit (raisins, apricots, apples, etc.)
    Bean dip
    Baked corn tortilla chips
    Whole wheat pretzels
    Whole grain, low sugar dry breakfast cereals such as: Cheerios (plain), Kix, Honey Bunches of Oats, Life (original)
    Tuna in a pouch or can
    Nutrition bars (Less than 8 g sugar)
    Dark chocolate chips (At least 70% cacao)

    Snack Staples for the Fridge or Freezer
    Fresh fruit (No more than can be eaten in a few days)
    Baby carrots or carrot sticks
    Celery sticks
    Cherry tomatoes
    Bell pepper slices
    Grapes for freezing
    Frozen fruit
    Frozen fruit bars
    Frozen edamame (Heat in microwave and season to your liking.)
    String cheese
    Individually wrapped low-fat cheese
    Plain nonfat yogurt
    Low-fat cottage cheese
    Eggs (Hardboiled, they will last a week in fridge.)
    Deli turkey for a quick roll-up
    Low-fat ranch dressing

    Though it takes a little effort, keeping an array of healthy foods on hand for snacking can result in a more nutritious diet, added energy, improved weight and healthier kids. That’s a lot of return on your investment.