Snacks don't have to be sugary, salty junk foods; they can be a healthful, low-calorie way to sneak some extra nutrients into your diet. Smart snacking can also keep you from overeating at your next meal.
Here are some tips to help you get started on the right track.
Plan: If you intend to bring a snack to work or school, prepare it the night before. You'll have one less thing to worry about in the morning and won't be tempted to grab a bag of chips on your way out the door.
Read the label: Pay attention to the serving size and the amount of calories per serving listed on the nutrition label. Aim for 200 calories or less for each snack.
Use portion control: Measure snack ingredients with measuring cups or eat from a single-serve container (such as yogurt). Avoid eating snacks directly from a multiple-serving package, which may lead to overeating.
Snack only when you're hungry: Avoid the urge to snack mindlessly when you're stressed, bored or sitting in front of the television.
When creating your own snacks, try to choose a variety of healthy items from each of the food groups for great tasting low-calorie snacks:
Grains: Choose whole grain when selecting breads, crackers, cereals and other grains.
Vegetables: Choose a variety of colorful vegetables to get the best balance of vitamins and minerals.
Fruits: Choose an assortment of fruits to snack on. Keep the skin on for extra fiber.
Dairy: Drink 1 percent or skim milk and choose low-fat dairy products.
Protein: Pick lean deli meats (chicken, turkey), nuts, and nut butters; just be sure to follow the serving size on the label.
Low-calorie beverages: Select water, 1 percent or skim milk, unsweetened iced tea or sugar-free beverages. For a refreshing treat, slice up a lemon, lime or orange for a splash of vitamin C and add to water or seltzer.
Still need some inspiration? From crunchy to savory, here are some low-calorie snack food ideas to satisfy your every craving:
Crunchy: Sugar snap peas (10), yellow bell pepper (10 strips) and hummus (2 tablespoons) equal about 80 calories.
Baby carrots (6), cherry tomatoes (6), low-fat ranch dressing (2 tablespoons) equal about 125 calories.
Salty: Air-popped popcorn (2 cups), grated Parmesan cheese (1 tbsp.), Old Bay (1/4 teaspoon) equal about 85 calories.
Kebabs: Low-fat cheddar cheese (cubes), seedless grapes (10) on mini pretzel sticks (4) equal about 150 calories.
Sweet: Small apple (sliced), peanut butter (1 tbsp.), ground cinnamon (1/4 tsp.) equal about 160 calories
Whole-grain waffle (1), blueberries (1/2 cup), plain Greek yogurt (2 tbsp.) equal about 140 calories.
Savory: Mini pizza: one whole wheat English muffin, low-fat mozzarella cheese (2 tbsp.), tomato sauce (2 tbsp.) equal about 180 calories.
Baked Potato (small: 1-3/4 inch to 2-1/2 inch diameter), reduced-fat shredded cheddar cheese (2 tbsp.) and salsa (2 tbsp) equal 180 calories.
Looking for a quick and easy snack to bring to work or school? Try packing a piece of fresh fruit (pear, apple, peach, small banana) or a single-serving container of light yogurt or Greek yogurt—for extra nutrients, you can buy the kind with the fruit on the bottom or pack 1/4 cup of blueberries, raspberries or sliced strawberries to mix in. Some other great options might be a piece of low-fat string cheese, a single-serving container of cottage cheese, 1 tbsp. of peanut butter with four whole-wheat crackers, or 1/4 cup of pecans, pistachios, walnuts or cashews.
Remember, snack calories count in your total calories for the day, so be sure to choose healthful, low-calorie snacks to sustain your energy until your next meal.