Do you have good intentions to eat healthily but find yourself getting hungry between meals and cannot think of quick healthy snacks to satisfy you? No fear, as here I describe 10 snack ideas that are quick, easy, healthy and will help to give you the energy you need to get through your day.
Whether you are a grazer or a 3-meals-a-day kind of person, the ideal gap between eating is about 3 hours. If you eat much more frequently than this then your digestive system may not have had chance to process the last thing you ate. If the time is much longer then you may start to be lacking in some vital nutrients, perhaps ending up with a low blood sugar level that could leave you feeling lethargic.
I love the new term that has evolved recently, hangry, capturing that grumpy, short-tempered feeling you have when you get hungry and lose patience and the ability to concentrate. I am a classic sufferer of this and try to avoid it by having healthy snacks on hand for in-between my main meals.
Some people are lucky enough to manage quite well in between their 3 meals a day without getting any cravings, but just because you don’t feel hungry, that doesn’t mean that your body doesn’t need fuelling. Going without earlier in the day can sometimes be the thing that leads you to cravings later at night and classic midnight snack syndrome.
Before I get in to the super snack suggestions, do make sure you start your day right. This is a topic that deserves its very own post but, for now, the right breakfast is so important. What you do/don’t eat for breakfast seriously affects how you feel for the rest of the day. You must make sure that your breakfast contains a quality source of protein, such as eggs, seeds (hemp, pumpkin, sunflower), nuts, lean meat or fish. Avocados are a fairly decent source of protein too. A good quality, healthy fat (not the sort you find in processed foods) will also provide you with long-lasting energy and give the body a good source of this essential macro-nutrient. This may come from avocados, nuts, seeds, coconut oil or other healthy oils like flax or avocado oil. In actual fact, a savoury breakfast is often the easiest way to get all the nutrients you need in your breakfast. Smoothies are also a great option.
Similarly to the points made above, even though a snack is considered to be different from a full meal, you should still try to pick snacks that are well balanced, containing all the macronutrients of carbohydrates, protein and fat, as well as lots of micronutrients. Once you start thinking in this way, you begin to realise that the sorts of things you thought of as good snacks before may not be offering you very much in terms of energy or nutrition.
At this point I’d like to say a brief word on calories. In my experience (both personally and observed in others), one of our priorities in selecting a snack can sometimes be not taking in too many ‘calories’. Obviously some people are in a position where they need to consider the amount of energy they are providing their body with in order to try and lose some excess weight. Traditionally, the way many people achieve this is by counting ‘calories’. The very major flaw with calorie counting is that not all calories are created equal. For example, 41g of Snickers bar has 200 calories, the same as 588g of broccoli! You could have either of these as a 200-calories snack, but do they both have the same effect inside our bodies? No! Your body will be hungry when it is lacking the nutrients it needs. If you fuel yourself with nutrient-dense foods that provide your body with what it needs to function, grow and repair, you are less likely to get hungry and less likely to suffer cravings.
In the example given above, it may seem obvious that a Snickers bar is probably not the healthiest of snack ideas, but any food that does not provide you with balanced sources of the 3 main macronutrients and lacks micronutrients will leave you with the same problem. Some culprits may not be so obvious. A plain rice cake, some plain popcorn, a digestive biscuit, toast with jam; all these provide too much fast-digested carbohydrate (high GI) and not a lot else. They are very quickly digested, enter your bloodstream, spike your blood sugar levels and swiftly leave you wanting more. Even a piece of fruit, although it does offer good nutrients and is better than fruit juice – where all the fibre has been removed – is very high in sugar and, as such, can leave you feeling hungry soon after and doesn’t provide you with vital fats and protein. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat fruit, but if it is all you eat all through the day you are definitely not eating healthily and giving your body what it needs. But it’s easily fixed, simply pair a piece of fruit with something else to add the missing fat and protein parts of the equation; a few nuts is a nice easy option.
I think we are ready to see how we can achieve a balanced snack. The examples I give below are some that require minimal effort, but if you have more time, doing some baking of your own could extend your healthy snack repertoire enormously. Often, a small portion of your leftovers from a previous meal would make a great snack to fuel you.
1. Houmous with vegetable sticks
Houmous is a great complete source of protein with the combination of chickpeas and sesame seeds. Sesame seeds are also a great (non-dairy) source of bio-available calcium too. It’s easy to make you own but, if not, pick up a ready-made tub from the supermarket or deli.
2. Hard boiled egg
I love eggs. There are few snacks ready-made by nature that can offer such fantastic nutrition. It is all great for you and makes a perfect snack. The easiest way to transport them is hard boiled (approximately 8-10 mins in boiling water). Boiling up a batch can give you snacks to eat throughout the week so you only need to do it once. I recommend organic to avoid any chemicals fed to the chickens getting into your eggs.
3. Apple slices spread with almond butter or tahini paste
Supporting the tip I describe above, pairing fruit with a good source of fat and protein allows you to benefit from the great nutrients in the fruit but slows down the absorption of all the sugar in it. This is one of my true favourite snacks. Instant, easy, delicious. Tahini is a sesame seed paste so a perfect substitution if you are nut free.
4. Avocado on oat cakes or rice cakes
Oat or rice cakes on their own do not offer too much in the way of nutrients. Popped rice, in particular, has a very high glycaemic index (GI). Pairing them with the good fats and modest protein content of the superstar avocado, however, lowers the overall glycaemic load, as well as being a really nice combination of tastes and textures. For those who aren’t keen on avocadoes, I’m not the biggest fan myself either, but combined with the crunch of a cracker in this way is really pretty yummy so give it a try!
5. Banana dipped in mixed seeds
And here we go again: fruit + delicious protein-rich snack = snack perfection. This is a fun one too so a particularly nice option for children.
6. Roasted chickpeas
Don’t be put off by the fact that this one requires cooking, it is really easy. Simply take a tin of chickpeas, rinse, drain and dry with clean towel. Drizzle over 1/2 tbsp olive oil and roll to coat them. Then sprinkle over 1 tsp garlic powder, 1/2 tsp salt 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper. Roll again. Bake at 200oC on a baking tray for 20 minutes then shake and put back in for 10-15 minutes. You can try a sweeter version too with cinnamon and low-GI coconut sugar. They are best eaten when they emerge from the oven. They can be stored and eaten later but will lose some of their yummy crunch.
7. Handful of mixed nuts
The ultimate easy, healthy snack. Pick one type, like almonds, or mix and match with macadamia, walnuts, brazil nuts etc. Try to stick with just one handful as nuts are very energy-rich. If nuts aren’t your thing, try combining with just a little dried fruit like unsulphured apricots, raisins, figs, prunes or goji berries. Use seeds instead (pumpkin, sunflower, flax, sesame) if you are nut free.
8. Super fast home-made muesli
Muesli can be very expensive when bought ready-made from the supermarket but it’s SO easy to mix up your own and the beauty is that you can pick all the added extras that you love the most. Simply take 1/2 cup whole oats and embellish with your choice of nuts, seeds and a little fresh or dried fruit. Sprinkle on some cinnamon (great for blood sugar balance) and enjoy with your favourite kind of milk. For an instant dairy-free milk, simply blend 1 tbsp shelled hemp seeds (fantastic source of omega 3 fatty acids) with 1 cup filtered water – and hey presto!
9. Handful of dark berries with coconut yogurt, mixed seeds and raw cacao nibs
Warning – this is a good one! Also a great option for dessert if you fancy something after your main meal. Good dark berries with a lower GI and dense nutritional value include blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. Pick whatever is in season locally or else frozen. Berries can be high in pesticides, so if organic is a feasible option for you, go for it. Cacao nibs are optional but very high in minerals like iron and magnesium and provide a lovely crunchy texture. They are bitter so don’t overdo it.
10. (Leftover) quinoa or brown rice with chilli and lime broccoli
I’ve saved this one until last as it does require a little more thought but can be knocked up in minutes once you get in the habit. Whenever you have brown rice, quinoa or any other whole grain with your dinner, cook up a bit extra so you can enjoy some as a snack another time. Then all you need to do is pair is with some superpowered veggies. Tenderstem or purple-sprouting broccoli work great here if in season. Other options would be asparagus, courgette or pak choi. Steam for a few minutes, toast in a griddle pan for another couple of minutes if you fancy and squeeze over some lime juice and sprinkle on a few chilli flakes to serve.
NB. Personally I avoid dairy as it is a common allergen, anti-inflammatory and questionably unethical when farmed in the huge quantities it must be now in order to meet demand (a big topic for another post). However, if it’s something you like, fruit with full fat yogurt (never fat-free) is another option.
For one final tip, if you are still finding yourself hungry less than 2 hours after last eating, make sure you have thought about balancing each of your meals as described above and consider your portion size, but a good distraction from food if you need it is a nice cup of your favourite herbal tea. Something with liquorice root or cinnamon is nice as it has a natural sweetness.