I eat pretty well during the day. I start off with a lean, protein-packed breakfast, have some fruit before lunch, and am even able to stick to healthy, well-balanced afternoon meals. Then something happens: The kids come home and start snacking like crazy, and by 3 or 4 p.m., I’m snacking like crazy right along with them.
It’s my biggest healthy eating pitfall.
So I decided to do some research—and a little experimenting with my own diet—to come up with smart, actionable strategies to help beat the 4 o’clock snacking overload.
These 5 snacking tips have helped keep me from over-snacking, and I’m hoping that they can do the same for you. Here’s what I’ve come up with that really works:
1. Time snacks well.
2. Eat balanced snacks with protein, fiber, and vitamins.
3. Keep it tasty.
4. Always include fruits or vegetables.
5. Drink a full glass of water with every snack.
CME readers might recall that my thinking about how to snack better was an essential aspect of my 5 small diet changes that led to big changes in my energy and appetite. And since I’m still holding strong with those changes, which I originally initiated on behalf of our sponsor Activia Fruit Fusion, I’m excited to be working with them again to continue my healthy eating experiments.
Their commitment to making deliciously healthy snacks that fit a busy working parent’s lifestyle is so important to those of you who, like me, might struggle to make the best food choices throughout a crazy day. So take a look and see what’s working!
Snacking tip #1: Time snacks well
This is a biggie and there’s no one-size-fits-all schedule for any of us, so I’ll let you know what I do.
I’ve noticed that my body really needs something protein-rich first thing in the morning—even when I don’t want to eat. If I start the day like this, then instead of getting hungry at 11 a.m., I find I can go until about 1 p.m., which is a perfect time for me to eat lunch.
If I’ve eaten a good breakfast and it turns out that I still need a snack before lunch, fruit usually does the job. Then, by around 3:30 or 4 p.m., right before I start cooking dinner, I’m hungry. So… snack time again.
This is when I need to do right by myself, and that means pulling out my good snacks instead of munching on the tortilla chips or sugary granola bars that my growing boys can inhale without consequence. If I set myself up with one of the snack combos mentioned below in #2, I feel sated until dinner. So much so that I don’t even need to sneak bites as I cook. Then, by 6:30 or 7, I have dinner and am done for the day.
Or am I?
If we’re going to talk about the relationship between snacks and time of day, it’s important for me to accept that my body craves another snack right around 9:30 or 10 p.m. You might be different, but that’s the pattern I notice. So to be honest, I try to just use willpower to avoid any late-night snacking at that time; but if I can’t resist, I do my best to keep it light. Because, bedtime. Air popped popcorn, fresh fruit, or a small all-fruit Popsicle usually does the trick for me.
Snacking tip #2: Eat nutritionally balanced snacks
I know from the 5 small but important diet changes that I made recently, that protein makes me feel fuller longer and also gives me energy; but protein alone is not enough. Cheese, for example, is high in protein, but doesn’t satisfy me for the long haul. While it can be a reasonable part of a healthy snack, I fare much better when I eat snacks that are more nutritionally balanced and include protein and fiber and vitamins.
I honestly haven’t found a single snack food that fits the bill alone, so I like to combine foods that come together into one nutritionally well-rounded snack. Plus, variety makes snack time feel much more exciting.
Yogurt has always been a go-to for me, as my long-time readers know, because it’s low-fat, protein-rich, and can still satisfy me with that creamy, sweet, decadent taste. That’s certainly the case with Activia Fruit Fusion, which also gets in those probiotics that I’ve been aiming to consume, in order to maintain a healthy gut and curb some of those cravings for empty snack calories.
In addition to yogurt, I pack my healthy snack arsenal with nut butter (used sparingly), fruit, small portions of cheese, lean sliced deli meat, hummus, hard boiled eggs, and veggies.
Some of my favorite combinations that help keep me feeling good all afternoon include:
- Activia Fruit Fusion + a graham cracker with peanut butter, banana slices, and cinnamon
- Activia Fruit Fusion (it comes in a ton of hard-to-resist flavors, so take your pick) dumped into a super quick smoothie. Thanks to the fruit on the bottom, I only need to add a splash of almond milk, then some banana, oats, and ice cubes. Protein powder is great, too, if you have it.
- Hummus + veggies + ham
- A cream cheese and cucumber tortilla roll-up + a hard boiled egg
- Toast with coconut butter, sliced fruit and honey + a small hunk of cheese
Snacking tip #3: Keep it tasty
This may seem like a snacking tip that goes without saying, but it’s okay to admit that snack time should be a pleasure! And that may not mean what you think it means, to borrow a phrase.
Even though I think that I’m enjoying those sneaky bites of the kids’ cookies and chips, when I stop to think about it, not so much. Because when I do, it tends to be because I’m tired, hungry, and not in a good place to resist those quick-hit snacks with empty carb and sugar appeal.
So when I remind myself that my snack time should be tasty, I take time at the market to be thoughtful about the snacks I choose… for me. So I get plain and spicy hummus to suit my mood. I make sure to get the deli meat thinly sliced, the way I like it best. I select yogurts just for me, like Activia Fruit Fusion, while leaving the squeeze tubes for the kids. And I make sure to cook a bunch of hard boiled eggs ahead of time so that they’re always ready and within reach.
Yes, it takes a little extra planning and even some extra prep (like for the eggs), but it’s always so worth it to feel good after I snack, and not guilty.
Snacking tip #4: Always include fruits and veggies at snack time
This is another trick that I learned works great for my body back when I made 5 small diet changes, so I’ve really stuck with it.
See, the emotional part of snack time is wanting to eat. Like, really chow down. I’m just not a “handful of nuts and I’m fine” kind of snacker, so starting or ending a healthy snack with fruits or veggies—because I can eat a ton of them—just makes me feel satisfied. Because, admittedly, being full doesn’t always stop me from snacking. I’ve learned that about myself. However, feeling like I can eat as much as I want of something, definitely does.
So if you’re like me and tend to overdo it, make sure that you have fresh fruits and vegetables around all of the time. If you include them, you might be surprised at how much of a difference they can make. Plus, this is the time of year to do it!
Snacking tip #5: Drink plenty of water at snack time
Another way for me to feel full is to drink a good amount of water. But just as I said previously, feeling full is not a curb for my tendency to over-snack, which is why I really have to couple this with all the other tips I’ve mentioned.
Of course there are other benefits to drinking lots of water too: Hydration means energy, and the more energetic I feel, the less I tend to snack just for its own sake. Go figure!
If you realize that you could use some more water throughout your day, I find it’s helpful to set some specific times during the day when drinking a tall glass or sports bottle of water is something you can just turn into a habit, like when I’m walking to pick up the kids, during every snack time, and when I’m prepping dinner. Having these “water moments” makes it a whole lot easier for me to stay hydrated.
And if you just can’t motivate to drink plain water, don’t succumb to diet sodas! Instead, do as I do and make a big batch of fruit-infused water: I found 10 creative infused water recipes (above) at the site Green Blender, which is a great place to start.
Giving water just a bit of flavor makes a huge difference for me. And, actually, it adds even more flavor to snack time which brings us right back to #3.
I really hope that these tips work for you! So far, I’m really noticing a difference in my energy and my eating habits overall, and they’re not major changes. But hey, if there’s anything special that works for you I’d love to hear it.
This post was sponsored by Activia®. Explore all of Activia’s delicious fruit fusion flavors at Activia.com. Thanks to them for giving me the motivation to snack better and still enjoy it!