Many people only think about breakfast, lunch and dinner when they’re meal prepping for the week. Snacks serve a handful of beneficial purposes, including:
- Keeping your hunger in check between meals
- You’re a lot less likely to want your healthy, prepared meal if you’re absolutely starving – avoiding reaching the “hangry” state keeps your appetite in a good place.
- Getting extra nutrients in
- I don’t love huge meals, so it’s hard for me to stomach all the protein I need during the day in a few portions of chicken. I use snacks as a tool by having small amounts of protein in between meals to ensure I hit my protein goal by the end of the day.
- Making a healthy diet work with your lifestyle
- Depending on your job and/or schedule, it’s not always possible to sit down, find a microwave or utensils, and eat a typical meal. Nutrient-dense snacks help you avoid going long periods without eating in these situations.
My tips and tricks:
- Cut any fruit that won’t brown. I’ve found after slicing apples, they only stay good in the fridge for a couple days. I’ll slice and portion 2-3 apples at a time, and then repeat midweek. This works well for watermelon and strawberries, too.
- Don’t leave chips, or anything that’s easy to grab and eat too much of, in the bag you bought it in. Separate them out into reasonable portions, so they’re perfectly sized for snacking. I pair these with hummus for a salty, satisfying snack.
- Cucumbers are refreshing and crunchy, and you can eat a ton of them for a small caloric-value. When you get an itch to snack on something at your desk, these are an easy go to.
- Hard boiled eggs are a great source of fat, protein, Vitamin A and Potassium. If you don’t like the consistency of the hard boiled yolk, or don’t have enough fat to spare, consider eating just the whites for quick, accessible protein. Hard boil a dozen or two with your meal prep, and then peel just a few at a time; repeat midweek to keep the outside fresh.
- Portion out your favorite granola into small containers and pair with your favorite non-fat yogurt.
- In terms of macros, rice cakes are pure carbs. They come in a ton of great flavors, and simple to take anywhere when you need to get some fuel in. They stay good for quite a while, so have plenty of these separated out on hand.
- Sliced turkey is a great way to get some extra protein, especially if you get sick of chicken, beef and fish during your regular meals. I prefer the kind sliced by deli counter (as opposed to pre-packaged) to maintain a fresh texture and taste. It rolls up great by itself, or with a piece of cheese, tomato, hummus or lettuce wrapped in.
- Salami, similarly to the sliced turkey, is a protein option that you don’t have to cook. It’s higher in fat than some alternatives, so you don’t need as large of a portion to feel satisfied.
When a food is nutrient-dense, it contains vitamins and minerals your body needs, outside of what you’re measuring by tracking macros. The most nutrient-dense foods come from the earth in the form of real foods, which you can read more about here. I think about nutrient-density as “more bang for your buck” kind of items, asking myself: how many vitamins, minerals and grams of fiber can I get in this food, for the lowest amount of calories?
For example: 100g of pretzels is about 380 calories, and contains vitamins such as Potassium, Iron and Magnesium. For the same amount of calories, you could have almost 450g (that’s 4.5x more!) of sweet potato and score more of the three nutrients found in pretzels, along with tons of Vitamin A, Vitamin B-6 and Vitamin C. In this case, the sweet potato would be a much more nutrient-dense carb to choose.
The above example also highlights the concept of volume eating. It’s similar to nutrient-density in that you’re looking for the most “bang for your buck” in food quantities.
For example: 200g of spaghetti squash is about 60 calories; 1.2g protein, 1.2g fat, and 14g carbs. For roughly the same amount of calories and carbs, you’d only be able to have 46g of whole-wheat spaghetti. A plate of 200g of spaghetti squash vs. a plate of 45g of pasta will look and feel very different when you’re eating it. Certainly, the spaghetti will fuel your body differently than the spaghetti squash – however the concept here is how much food you can eat to achieve more volume without necessarily eating more calories. Eating high-volume foods can help you feel fuller, and easily increase the overall nutrient-density of your diet.
Idea: One of my favorite ways volume eating habits is to mix shredded cauliflower and rice together for the base of a stir-fry meal. 1 cup of jasmine rice is about 250 calories; 5g protein, 2g of fat and 52g carbs. 1 cup of shredded cauliflower is about 25 calories; 2g protein, 0g fat and 5g carbs. They both have similar consistencies, color, and take on flavor really well. By mixing the two, say 1/3 cup of jasmine rice and a full cup of cauliflower, you now have a bigger portion overall and get the best of both worlds: some hearty rice, more food on your plate (volume eating), and all the nutrients that cauliflower contains (nutrient-density).
For a refresher on what macros are, check out my blog post here.