As we enter the new year, one habit that may need a little attention is your snacking. I’m a huge fan of snacking when timed properly and when snacks are healthful. But studies suggest that many of us are snacking excessively and our snack habits are interfering with meal time. Though it may seem counter-intuitive, eating lightly at meal time and managing hunger with snacks can lead to overeating and weight gain, since granola bars and chips and other typical snacks often lack the whole food ingredients, such as fiber and protein, that help fill you up. Plus, these types of snacks are smaller than many meals, and therefore, you may require more to feel full (therefore driving up the calories, and possibly triggering weight gain).
However, assuming you’re fueling up at meal time, snacking is another opportunity to nourish your body with the vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds that keep your body running well and your mind focused and sharp. Most of us need one or two snacks each day to stay in a healthy weight range, though you may need an additional snack if you’ve participated in a really sweaty workout. Lately, I’ve found some of the healthiest packaged snacks at Target—both in store and online—so I’m sharing some of my favorites to help you shop for more nutritious snacks. While I’m focusing on packaged snacks here, of your two snacks, I always suggest you make one a pairing of produce (either fruit or veg) and protein (think: nut butter or nuts, cheese, a boiled egg, leftover chicken, canned tuna, or Greek yogurt). (If you're traveling or need more snack ideas, here are my favorite healthy travel snacks. And if you have a sweet tooth, you're definitely gonna want to read about my favorite healthy sweet snacks!)
If you’re the type who likes chips, check out this Cheeto alternative, made predominantly from organic chickpea flour. The real value here: 4 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber for a reasonable 130 calories. Plant protein and fiber make it a much healthier choice than most other chips.
Another better-for-you chip for those who love to munch are these sweet potato chips, which feature a simple ingredient list and supply 3 grams of fiber, plus about half of your day’s vitamin A quota in the form of beta carotene. Beta carotene is an antioxidant, and in addition to keeping your cells stable, which protects them from disease, studies suggest that orange-hued veggies containing beta carotene give your skin a healthy glow similar to a tan (but without the sun damage and associated risks).
On its own, popcorn is a healthy, whole grain, fiber- and antioxidant-rich snack. But it’s only as healthy as what you dress it with. Butter, sugar, and other flavored toppings can take it off the healthiest snack list. This brand keeps things simple and keeps the salt really low, while still providing all the crunch and flavor you’re looking for. And a snack-size bag makes it easy to stash in your bag, glove compartment, or desk drawer for times when you’re a little stressed out and need to munch.
One of the healthiest things you can snack on is nuts, but one problem is they’re easy to overeat. Problem solved! Unlike the versions I’ve seen at Trader Joe’s, this version from Target sticks to a 1-oz perfectly portioned serving to keep you from overdoing it. Plus, I like the fact that these nuts are only lightly salted, since most Americans get much more sodium than necessary. Also available in almond as well as other varieties.
Freeze dried fruit is an easy, healthy snack, and Target has a good selection. Pick any you like, but I like mango, which supplies 3 grams of fiber plus more than a third of the vitamin C you need each day. This nutrient keeps your immune system strong, and if you like tough workouts, you may need a little more than the rest of us. Plus, vitamin C is involved in collagen production, which helps promote healthier and more youthful skin.
Target is now stocking KIND Minis, which are a great snack to tuck into your bag or office drawer. If you typically like something sweet, these bars, in Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt and Caramel Almond & Sea Salt, are a healthier way to get a fix. I love the fact that each bar has just 2 grams of added sugar, which is just half a teaspoon of the 6 to 9 teaspoon daily cap.
One cool thing about Target is they carry LARABARs in 5 packs instead of the usual 16 count. That means you can try different varieties to keep snacks healthy and interesting! In my house, we love so many of the flavors: Snickerdoodle, Peanut Butter Cookie, Cashew Cookie, and Coconut Crème Pie are some of our recent favorites. What I love about LARABARS is their simple, whole food ingredient list. Plus, most versions contain no added sugar and are sweetened naturally with dates. I’m also a fan of the minis for times when I want a little something but don’t need a full bar. Note that while LARABARS have some protein and fiber, they may have less than other bars. That means they’re good for times when you need brain food—say, you’re getting ready for an afternoon meeting—or you just want something to tide you over when your next meal is a while away. If you’ve just worked out, you might be better off with my next pick.
Another no-added-sugar bar, RXBARs are my top choice when you want a protein-rich option; they have 12 grams, the same amount as two boiled eggs. Choose an RXBAR if your meal was skimpy, you’re replacing a meal (say, breakfast on the run or because you’re traveling through meal time), or after a workout when you need the protein to repair your muscles. Instead of minis, RXBAR offers a kid’s bar, which I eat when I want a lighter snack. They still have 7 grams of protein—more than an egg and more than other minis on my list.
Beef jerky is often loaded with sodium and added sugars, but this version keeps both in a reasonable range for jerky. Though I don’t normally recommend processed meat products, like jerky, they can be an easy option when you’re traveling. For these times, choosing an organic, grass fed version that’s tame in added sugars (in this case, 5 grams, or just over a teaspoon) and sodium (290 mg, which is decent for jerky) is the way to go.
Happy snacking, friends!