When's your snack o'clock? How to master the munchies
We start snacking from a young age. Remember little lunch at school? And when you came home from school, you probably had a sandwich or a glass of milk to keep your tummy quiet until dinner. No one wagged their finger and said that was wrong. So why did snacks start to seem naughty as we grew up?
It’s simple: As we get older, we begin to realise that snacking — nibbling on sweet or salty treat foods — can lead to weight gain. A couple of sweet biscuits, some chips or a few bites of chocolate cake give you a quick energy boost, but little in the way of nutrients. In fact, treats such as these can be high in saturated fat, refined carbohydrates and salt, so they shouldn’t be part of your daily diet. These are foods to enjoy on special occasions.
But not all snacks are created equal. Choose them wisely and you can have a couple of snacks a day without gaining weight. The right snack delivers 400 to 800kJ (about 100 to 200cal) and provides us with not only energy, but also essential nutrients, such as protein, fibre and calcium.
Time your snacks right
Most of us have a specific time, or times, of day when we’re most inclined to snack. Ignoring this urge is likely to be a short-lived victory because, like any form of deprivation, swearing off snacks is hard to sustain.
Of course, cravings can make you cave in to poor choices, so your best snacking strategy is to plan ahead. Identify your ‘snack o’clock’ — the time when you’re most susceptible to those sugary between-meal bites — and make sure you have healthy, satisfying alternatives on hand.
11AM “I can’t face breakfast, so I’m starving by mid-morning”
Your snack strategy: Have a mini morning meal
A slice of grainy toast topped with peanut butter or a small bowl of wholegrain cereal with a chopped banana will help you fight mid-morning munchies.
Studies show that people who eat breakfast have better-quality diets than those who forgo their first meal. This is partly because we eat nutrient-rich foods in the morning, and partly because we tend to eat nutrient-poor, high-kilojoule foods after skipping the most important meal of the day. If you leave home without eating a proper breakfast, chances are that you’ll be famished by 11am and succumb to a croissant at the coffee shop or to biscuits in the office kitchen, or both.
If you can’t face food at home, take a piece of fruit and a tub of reduced-fat yoghurt to work, and eat there. Top up at mid-morning with a handful of nuts, which will help you stay satisfied.
Opt for foods that are low in kilojoules and full of fibre and protein. These will keep you going until lunchtime.
A hard-boiled egg: Packed with nutrients and hunger-busting protein, eggs are easy to prepare and great for eating on the go.
Nuts and seeds: For an easy energy-boosting snack, pop two tablespoons of mixed nuts and seeds into individual zip-lock bags.
A high-fibre muesli bar: Some so-called healthy bars lack nutritional substance. Look for a bar that provides at least 3g of fibre, which will quiet any tummy rumbles.
3PM “I always have a post-lunch energy slump at work”
Your snack strategy: Choose foods that provide lasting energy
Most of us reach for a snack around this time, especially if lunch wasn’t very filling or work isn’t overly thrilling! The problem is that afternoon lethargy makes us crave less-than-healthy foods, sending some of us straight to the vending machine. And sugary biscuits and chocolate provide only short-term stamina, as do caffeinated coffee and cola.
Make your next pick-me-up a nourishing snack that will give you enough pep to polish off the rest of the day’s work. A healthy bite will stave off hunger pangs and stop you from raiding the fridge as soon as you get home.
Curb cravings with snacks that deliver sustained energy, not a short-term sugar high.
Reduced-fat yoghurt: A small tub of unsweetened yoghurt is a natural source of satisfying protein and the bone-building minerals phosphorus and calcium.
Wholegrain crackers: Top two crackers with protein-rich cottage cheese or peanut butter to keep yourself feeling full without overshooting your daily kilojoule needs.
Dried fruit: Munch on naturally sweet dried fruit, such as dates. Try to stick to a 30g serve, which is about four dried-apricot halves or 1 1/2 tablespoons of sultanas.
5PM “I can’t wait until dinner!”
Your snack strategy: Watch pre-dinner nibbles
Didn’t have time for afternoon tea? You probably haven’t eaten for five or six hours — no wonder hunger gets the better of you when you’re preparing dinner and surrounded by food!
Whether its chips, salty nuts, crackers and dip, or chunks of cheese, those ‘appetisers’ can really crank up the kilojoules without your even noticing. Even picking at kids’ leftovers can quickly fill you up. In fact, graze on an empty stomach and you can inadvertently consume more kilojoules than the meal on your dinner plate provides!
Stash low-kilojoule snacks in the fridge and pantry so you can snack well while you’re cooking dinner.
Raw vegie sticks: Crunchy crudités will lift your vegetable intake and keep the kilojoule count low. Chop sticks of cucumber, celery and carrot to dip into…
Salsa or reduced-fat tzatziki and hommous: Enjoy your crudités with two tablespoons of a low-kilojoule sauce or spread. Dipping veg into creamy dips and nibbling on cheese leaves little room for your main meal.
Popcorn: A cup or two of unsalted air-popped popcorn won’t spoil your appetite.
9.30PM “I like to nibble while watching TV”
Your snack strategy: Check your dinner
If you often crave snacks after dinner, your evening meals may need a makeover. A healthy, satisfying dinner includes lean, protein-rich foods, such as fish, chicken or eggs, to help you feel full. Combine these with low-GI carbohydrates, which your system digests slowly, and you’ll increase your feelings of satiety. Try nutty quinoa or wholemeal pasta and choose basmati rice over jasmine rice. Cook less white potato and more sweet potato and butternut pumpkin. (Turn to p24 for more information on potato.)
Late-night snacking can lead to weight gain, especially if you have a weakness for fatty, high-kilojoule foods, such as ice cream, sweets and biscuits. Before you scour the pantry for snacks and settle in front of the telly, consider whether you’re truly hungry. A warm cup of tea could be enough to satisfy you.
Resist the temptation of rich desserts at night. Favour light high-protein snacks that won’t interfere with your sleep.
A cup of warm milk: The protein in milk contains tryptophan, an amino acid that promotes calm.
Dark chocolate: If chocolate is your weakness, savour two to three squares of good-quality dark stuff to avoid overindulging.
Apple slices with peanut butter: This high-protein snack satisfies without leaving a heavy feeling in your stomach just before bedtime.
“Help! I reach for comfort food when I’m stressed”
Your snack strategy: Plan ahead
When we nibble on something at work, we’re usually focused on a task, not on our food. If stress brings on the munchies, the simplest solution is to have healthy snacks on hand. An apple or banana is the ultimate pre-packaged snack, and nuts come with a satisfying crunch! Try a small handful of unsalted almonds, which give you ‘good’ fats and nutrients, or two to three Brazil nuts, which contain the immunity-strengthening mineral selenium.