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Snack Smarter this February

Over the last 30 years, the average number of snacks consumed by adults per day has doubled, according to the USDA Food Surveys Research Group. Snacking by adolescents has also increased significantly in recent decades. On average, snacks provide about one-third of daily calories. For many, the snack foods and beverages contributing the most calories aren't always the most nutritious options. However, snacking can be part of a healthy eating plan. February is Snack Food Month, and healthy snacks can provide lots of nutrition with fewer calories. Check out the following information on making smarter snacking easier.

Tips for Snacking Smarter:

MyPlate and snack food selection. Choose snack foods from the MyPlate food groups. Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables to help get the full range of vitamins, minerals, and fiber needed for health. Whole fresh fruits, dried fruits, and packaged pre-cut vegetables are easy snacks to carry along. Snack on whole grains such as popcorn, low-fat granola bars, brown rice cakes, or snack mixes with whole-grain cereal. Consume three cups per day of fat-free or low-fat dairy, such as yogurt, string cheese, or cottage cheese. Eat a variety of lean protein such as meat, poultry, beans, eggs, nuts, and seeds.

Develop a smarter snacking plan. To keep snacking under control, plan what to eat, how much, and when to eat a snack. Planned snacking reduces the likelihood of overeating on not-so-healthy foods at a fast-food restaurant, vending machine, or convenience store. To keep snacks from replacing meals, avoid eating snacks within one hour of meals.
Keep nutritious snacks handy: Research shows that availability often drives snack selection. If your cupboard is full of cookies, chips, and candy, it's easy to make them your snack. Fresh, frozen, dried, or canned fruits can be easy "grab-and-go" options that need little preparation. Store sliced vegetables in the fridge and eat them with dips like hummus or low-fat dressing. Have healthy snacks portioned into snack-size bags or containers.

Compare food labels. Read the Nutrition Facts Label on products to find food with the most nutrition for your money. Using the Nutrition Facts Label helps you compare fat, calories, fiber, sodium and sugar found in different items. They also provide information on the serving size and how many servings are in an item.

Eat snacks only when hungry. Thirst is often misinterpreted as hunger, so it's important to drink plenty of water during the day. Avoid eating snacks out of boredom or frustration; try physical activity instead. Every person has varying needs when it comes to snacking, depending on activity levels, portion sizes at meals, and work schedule. Elderly adults and toddlers may have difficulty eating large meals because of stomach capacity, and may do well with several small snacks throughout the day. Children and teens are more likely to need snacks because of their growth and higher physical activity levels. Plan ahead for children's snack needs to avoid last-minute unhealthy snacking decisions.

Authored by or Adapted from Lisa Franzen-Castle, PhD, RD, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Nutrition Specialist. Healthy Bites Newsletter, http://go.unl.edu/m4ts, February 2015.

     

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