Even if you love to snack, choosing smart, low-calorie snacks can actually be a net benefit to your healthy eating plan. The truth is that some of us like to snack … and the rest of us love to snack! Problems come in when our snack habits get out of hand. You can still maintain or lose weight while enjoying frequent snacks, but you do have to make smart choices. Snacking is not unhealthy. In fact, snacking and grazing throughout the day can help keep you from overindulging on high-calorie options during meals.
3 full meals a day works for some people, but not everyone! Some people are able to go long periods without eating, but other people see their blood sugar levels fall which can increase cravings for carb-rich foods. It’s important to snack smart, however, as many people overestimate the amount of calories they burn while walking and tend to treat themselves with more calories than they burned.
You can think of your calories the same way you think of your finances – you can spend your money in big chunks or make smaller purchases over time. Either can work, as long as you’re making good choices. These some healthy snack ideas taste good, are relatively low in calories and will fill you up next time you’re craving a bite.
Pop It Up
The best snacks, and the ones we gravitate to most often, are convenient. They’re easy to grab and easy to take with us to work or wherever we happen to be. If you are trying to cut back on calories, air-popped popcorn is a low-cal favorite for good reason.
Popcorn is a whole grain containing B vitamins and vitamin E. It is also high in fiber and can help fight bad cholesterol. The healthiest popcorn is air-popped, as it isn’t saturated with fatty oils. As a go-to snack though, plain air-popped popcorn can have all the appeal of styrofoam packing peanuts.
Your popcorn shouldn’t be boring. Instead, why not pop a huge bowl of popcorn, leave it out where it is easily accessible, and even change your flavors throughout the evening depending on your mood.
Try these great flavors. If you find your flavors aren’t sticking, you can try spraying your popcorn with just a little olive oil or butter spray before you season it. This prevents the flavors from hiding on the bottom of the bowl. Just don’t overdo the spray, because oil is oil!
To Indulge Your Sweet Tooth
- Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon and sugar
- Salt your popcorn and drizzle it with a tablespoon of melted dark chocolate
- Mix popcorn with your favorite dry cereal
For a Savory Snack
- Top with garlic powder and parmesan cheese
- Make it sizzle with chili powder and cayenne pepper
- Try black pepper with celery salt and garlic
Make Low-Calorie Substitutions at Dinner
You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Using our budget analogy, if you start adding a bunch of snacks without changing anything else, you’ll find you’ll be eating a lot more calories than before. Make room in your calorie “budget” for your snacks by choosing healthier options for your other meals. Making substitutions for pasta and rice is actually easy and tasty. The textures and appearance will be similar, but the calorie counts are not even close.
If you have a food processor, you can have cauliflower “rice” prepped and cooked even faster than a bowl of instant rice. Just pulse raw cauliflower florets a few times. Place the faux rice in a covered bowl and microwave for two minutes. If you do not have a food processor, you can use a grater. A cup of white rice can have up to 250 calories, while riced cauliflower can come in at as little as 25 calories per cup!
If you are fortunate enough to have a spiralizer, zucchini is an excellent substitute for pasta. Use it in place of spaghetti with your meatballs and sauce, or use it to replace egg noodles in your favorite soup recipe. If you don’t have a spiralizer for your zucchini, you can make pasta-like ribbons of zucchini with a vegetable peeler. 1 cup of pasta runs about 220 calories, while plain zucchini is about 20 calories.
While you may still love your white rice and white pasta, isn’t it worth it to make some small changes (at least part of the time) if it means you can indulge a great snack for the same amount of calories?
Keep Healthy Snacks Easily Accessible
We all know vegetables can be healthy snacks, but if plan celery doesn’t seem appetizing to you then you’re more likely to grab something less healthy instead. By putting in a little work ahead of time, you won’t be tempted to reach for the easy, tempting, high-calorie options.
Set aside some time during your week to clean and prep veggies and healthy snacks so they’re pre-made and ready to go. Pack them in individual bags or containers if possible so you can just grab them whenever you need to. If you’re going to mindlessly eat something while watching TV, why not a bag of carrots and bell peppers? If you like your veggies with dip, try hummus or low-cal salad dressing.
Fresh fruit also makes great snacks. Eating the actual fruit is even better than drinking 100% juice, as the fruit contains fiber which keeps you feeling full longer. A banana is a great snack before your walk, and only contains about 100 calories! Fresh fruit takes longer to eat than juice and has no added sugar unlike many juices (though fruit does contain sugar naturally).
The best thing you can do for your body and your waistline is to stay hydrated by drinking lots of water. Water has no calories and helps you feel full, which means you’ll be less tempted to snack. Often, we think we’re hungry but we’re actually craving hydration. Try drinking a glass of water when you feel the urge to snack, then wait 5-10 minutes. You may find that your snack urge has already disappeared.
Drinking plenty of water also helps you avoid craving sugary, high-calorie drinks. When you’re tempted to reach for soda, you’re often simply thirsty. If you’re feeling the urge to grab a soda from the store, try drinking a glass of water first and waiting a minute or two.
If you crave flavor, try infusing your water with some fruit slices. You can also find low-calorie water flavoring that can be a good option, but you can save money by doing it yourself! Tea and black coffee have little to no calories and make a great option as well. For those times you don’t want caffeine, green tea has less caffeine and many herbal teas have no caffeine, so consider them as well.
Sometimes, just taking a walk can make a difference! It can help relieve stress and boost your mood, which can reduce cravings. If you’re feeling hungry, get some steps!
A lot of us love to snack, and that’s ok! With a few healthy tweaks and a little preparation, you can still enjoy tasty snacks without exploding your calorie count and your waistline!
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