As the nature and pace of life evolves, so do our eating habits. Snacking is now more commonplace than ever before. Our 2019 Food and Health Survey found that almost everyone (97 percent of survey respondents) snacks at some point during the week. Despite snacking’s prevalence, it can be hard to know how to build a healthy snack—one that’s appropriate for your budget, schedule and flavor preferences. Below we’ve created a few snacker profiles with relevant snacking suggestions. See which one/s you identify with!
The Dedicated Gym-Goer
Snacks for the dedicated gym-goer should provide adequate nutrients to help you power through and recover from a tough workout. Specific macronutrient ratios will differ depending on the type of exercises and level of intensity you’re seeking. Typically, for a pre-strength-training snack, foods with carbohydrates and protein are your best friends. When we eat carbohydrates, they break down into glucose and enter our muscles to give us fuel for our workouts. Additionally, protein helps repair the small tears in our muscle fibers that occur as we lift weights. It’s helpful to give yourself between 30 minutes and a few hours to digest your snack before you jump into exercising in order to avoid any GI discomfort. A few pre-workout snacks to consider include hard-boiled eggs and an apple; beef jerky and berries; or cottage cheese, almonds, and grapes. Likewise, don’t forget to refuel with carbs, protein and electrolytes after your workout is done.
The Busy Parent
Parenting is challenging enough on its own, and a busy schedule only complicates matters. Snacks for the busy parent should be healthy, portable and easy to eat with small hands (in case a little one gets hungry too!). Sliced fruits and veggies, string cheese, whole grain crackers and dips such as nut butters or hummus are great options. On a related note, our 2019 Food and Health Survey found that parents report overcoming picky eating as the biggest challenge for introducing foods to infants. If your infant or young child is a picky eater, check out these tips.
Lacing up for a run? You’ll benefit from consistent energy that’s easy on the digestive system. All three macronutrients are essential, but carbohydrates are particularly important. Plus, how much time you have before your run can impact how much you’re able to digest. If you have one to two hours before you hit the road, you can consume 50–75 grams of carbohydrates without causing digestive discomfort. If you only have 15 to 30 minutes, try 15–25 grams of carbohydrates (about one or two slices of bread, one cup of cereal, or a handful of crackers). Good general options for the runner include cereal, crackers, smoothies and bananas. A post-run snack should include a combination of carbohydrates and protein, eaten within 15 to 30 minutes after finishing. Carbohydrates will replenish your depleted glycogen stores and protein will help repair your muscles. Try chocolate milk, cottage cheese, trail mix or a protein-rich energy bar.
The One on a Budget
Many of us know what it’s like to be on a tight budget. It’s challenging to balance nutrition quality with a limited income, and we certainly need to be sensitive of that when making recommendations. The goal is to do the best you can with the resources available to you. Don’t be discouraged — there are some snacks that are more affordable and still provide important nutrients. Popcorn and oatmeal, for example, are relatively inexpensive options. Peanut butter, cheese sticks, bananas, frozen berries and oranges are also healthy choices. These options work well if all that’s accessible is a microwave and mini fridge. The key is to build a snack that contains some mix of carbs, protein and fat, if possible.
The Millennial Yogi
Some of us like exercising but in a less intense way than the dedicated gym-goer or the runner. Millennials in particular are tuning into overall wellness, which often includes intentional, low-intensity activities like walking, yoga, stretching or casual, recreational sports. Still, similar principles apply. Carbohydrates and protein are important before and after, but—depending on the duration and intensity—less food may be needed pre- and post-activity. The Millennial snacker is most likely to have heard of mindful or intuitive eating (with 49 percent reporting familiarity with the concepts, according for our 2019 Food and Health Survey) and would benefit from homing in on hunger cues to guide how much food to eat. The Millennial yogi might reach for a handful of nuts or seeds, yogurt, or another trendy option like an oat milk latte, bone broth or even cauliflower rice.
The Office Professional
Short on time with a schedule full of meetings and presentations? Despite a growing to-do list, these snackers don’t want to sacrifice their eating habits. Our 2019 Food and Health Survey found that 80 percent of consumers with an income of $75,000 or more report having a better diet compared with 62 percent of consumers with an income of less than $35,000. These professionals are interested in healthy food choices to power through their day. Steady energy—found in energy bars, dried chickpeas, hummus and pretzels, and cheese and nut packs—can help you stay focused on the task at hand.
Regardless of what type of profile you identify with, it’s helpful to create snacks that contain a mix of macronutrients—that is, fats, carbs and protein—and try to tune into your hunger as you eat.
Curious about other snacking tips? Check out these resources.
This article contains contributions from Allison Webster, PhD, RD.