Who doesn’t love a snack? It is pretty much a legitimate reason to put something else tasty in your mouth in between the standard three meals a day we all know and love, and what isn’t to love about that. Not a lot in my eyes, or mouth, we are talking about food here. Like all meals of the day, snacks can become monotonous, samey, boring and sometimes a bit beige, unless that beige food is a big handful of tortilla chips pimped out with a side of multiple dips at a party of course (my favourite treat snack every so often that now takes place at the weekend as part of a sofa party). In all snack based seriousness, this second blog with Chantal aims to provide everyone who reads it with easily digestible information on the benefits of choosing healthier snacks, ideas for more exciting (non-beige) snacks and our favourite ‘go to’ snacks. We are both creatures of habit! Time to start snacking.
Why We Snack
As the word suggests, a snack is very much a small portion of food to keep you ticking over, particularly if you are prone to the dreaded ‘hanger’, as Chantal and myself very much are! I reiterate from our first blog all about breakfast; can you imagine a boot camp session with Chantal if she was even the slightest bit hangry? I still, to this day, do not want to think about it. During the day, snacks help in maintaining our blood sugar at a balanced level which keeps our bodies and brains energised for whatever glorious activities we have planned. Our brains primarily function on a supply of glucose (sugar metabolised from carbohydrates) – no one wants a “brain fart” (a phrase I have coined that I hope might catch on) during an important work meeting or an exam, for example. Snacking is also a fantastic way to incorporate many additional nutrients into your diet, providing extra love your body and brain will thank you for!
Snack for You
As with everything in life, snacking is person dependent. We are all wonderfully different. Due to our awesomely individual lifestyles and health goals, our snacking will probably vary as well. Chantal, for example, has an extremely active job and, therefore, snacks between two and three times per day; mid-morning, mid-afternoon and sometimes in the evening. Whereas compared to an individual with a more sedentary, office based job, snacking might be less often, or the snack of choice lower in calories. Talking of the “c word” (sorry, I’m not a massive fan of it either), snacks can be an easy way to unknowingly pile on the calories day to day, impacting health goals positively or negatively. This increase in calorie intake may not be great for someone wanting to lose weight, but on the other hand, it might be beneficial for someone wanting to gain weight or who is expending higher amounts of energy because of their training demands. Our choice of snack and portion size of said snack is something else we should bear in mind.
Snack Choice and Portion Size
As I sit here typing away getting progressively more hungry thinking about the snack ideas coming up shortly (hang in there!), the phrase “too much of a good thing” springs to mind. Some healthy foods are very calorie dense, so even though they are healthy by providing us with glorious vitamins and nutrients, an unsuitable portion size, i.e. one that is too big, would rocket the calories through the snack roof (if we had a snack van, of course), impacting daily calorie intake and potentially an individual’s health goals. Nuts, for example, are a fantastic snack that I am all for; I LOVE nuts and peanut butter, as you will probably know from previous blogs. Nuts are full of body building protein and nutrients, but high in calories because they contain a large amount of good fats, so it is important to note how many you can have to fit with your health goals. I have to stop myself from eating peanut butter straight out of the jar, with no spoon (not ashamed), for this exact reason *wipes single tear falling from eye*. On the flip side, eating 500 bright orange carrots, full of vitamin A and potassium, probably won’t do us any favours either and would turn us into Bugs Bunny. Our favourite fluffy cartoon character needs another “b word” in his life; balance! And probably more protein.
Pack in the Protein
Protein is a great nutrient to base snacks upon. Choosing snacks higher in protein will keep us fuller for longer whilst also repairing and maintaining our muscles, particularly important after a brutal boot camp session with Chantal! A lot of people do not consume enough protein in their diet so protein rich snacks are a great way to increase our intake without even knowing (sneaky!). Some of our favourite protein packed snacks include:
- Yoghurt – we both love Fage yoghurt in particular which is thick, creamy and higher in protein and lower in calories per 100g serving. Be careful when choosing yoghurt as some contain a deceptively high amount of sugar. Choose plain yoghurt and you are free to add your own fruit, nuts, etc., knowing no yucky stuff has been added!
- Beans – rich in plant protein beans such as chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans etc., make a fantastic snack you can eat with your hands. TIP: to make beans more interesting, dab them dry with a cloth, sprinkle over your favourite herbs and spices and roast on a baking tray for 20 minutes or so at 180-200 degrees. The beans will turn crunchy and hold onto the flavourings.
- Peanut Butter – couldn’t not be included! Spread on wholemeal toast, rice cakes, add to a smoothie, the possibilities are endless, just be careful with the amount used.
- Cheese – yes, cheese! Made from milk, cheese is full of protein, but like our friend the nut, portion carefully as it is also very calorie dense. Add your favourite to a cracker, rice cake, or even a bit of fruit if you’re feeling a bit snazzy!
- Eggs – the powerhouse of protein is not just for breakfast. Boil a couple for a quick snack with a small side of vegetables; spinach and tomatoes work really well.
- Protein Bar/Shake – if short of time, protein bars and shakes are a quick and easy way to get a filling snack on the go. As with a lot of pre-made goods, check the nutrients table on the packaging to make sure it is suitable for your goals and energy needs.
Mix and Match Your Snacks
Seven days in a week is a lot of time to mix and match your snacks, no day should totally be the same! Whether it is changing which piece of fruit to have each day, altering yoghurt flavourings, pairing yoghurts or dips with different vegetables, or spreading your rice cakes and toast with something other than peanut butter (I don’t know why I have suggested that), there are many ways to keep snacking fun, varied and not boring. I love a carrot stick as much as the next person, but there are many ways to up your snack game from average to down right awesome, so let’s get snacking!
Strong Snack Game
The part of the blog we have all been waiting for (well, I have anyway); the creating and building of healthy snacks to keep you full throughout the day and your body and brain functioning at their peak. This section of the blog will provide you with ideas for making what can be quite boring ingredients to tasty snacks you will look forward to eating (all hail the rice cake!) and links to recipes I have created so far, which will be added to as more are developed.
The Flapjack Snack
We all know the score with a really good, sweet and sticky flapjack: lots and lots of sugar! Fantastic as a treat every so often to indulge in the comfort of childhood, but not as sustainable as a day to day snack; childhood ruined! However, making simple changes to this oat based treat does not make it any less worthy. Preparing a batch for the week ahead could not be easier. Fast forward around 20 minutes later and you have a delicious energy and nutrient filled snack for 100 calories or less, assuming you don’t cut the slabs too big, or end up diving in for one more! I wouldn’t blame you if you did; I have. The flavour combinations are endless and these creations will hit the sweet spot:
The ever pesky, overripe bananas provide the sweetness for these healthier flapjacks and the minimal cooking keeps them moist (trial and error led me to this conclusion). Oats are a great source of protein as well as carbohydrates. Think of these as an on the go, hand held bowl of porridge. In addition, on those days of greater hunger or energy expenditure, the flapjacks make a great addition to a yoghurt bowl (that’s next) and also make a great breakfast on the go. Childhood memories restored!
“The Yog Bowl”
As I said above, our favourite yoghurt is coincidentally the same *audience gasps*. Fage is a thick Greek style yoghurt that tastes creamy and delicious. Shopping around, pretty much all of the well-known supermarkets offer their own label of Greek yoghurt to satisfy our hunger pangs (and our wallets). The 0% fat versions provide extra bonus points in the form of approximately 10 grams of protein, minimal sugar and calories per 100g *audience gasps louder*. All the more reason to throw some extra nutrients and flavours at this ridiculously white ingredient to create a filling and colourful yog bowl (yog rolls off the tongue, don’t you think?):
- Mixed Berries – fresh or frozen, berries work so well with its creamy friend. If using frozen fruits (much cheaper and last longer than fresh), defrost them slightly in the microwave for 30-40 seconds and mix into the yoghurt. Our favourites are blueberries, raspberries or strawberries.
- Fruit and Nut – or seeds, or nut butter. Nuts, seeds or nut butter add a crunchy texture to this otherwise smooth fruit and yoghurt bowl. Just a teaspoon or two is enough to do the trick.
- Favourite Cereal – adds texture and sweetness! Think cereal that would normally be seen as an unhealthier option and add a small handful for a sweet, crunchy hit. I normally have a back of the cupboard stash of a favourite cereal for this kind of snack every so often.
- Citrus and Tropical Fruits – sliced banana, orange segments, kiwi, apple pieces, pear, the list goes on! Mix them up or enjoy them for their own worth for all the vitamins and minerals. As above, an addition of nuts, seeds or nut spread adds extra healthy fats and protein.
- Drizzle – no yog bowl is complete without an extra drizzle! The market is full of healthier drizzle worthy products such as flavoured syrups and liquid chocolate. My current favourite is the range from Sweet Freedom UK or a gloriously golden drizzle of the famously local Quince Honey Farm Devon honey.
Pimped up Rice Cakes
Dry? Cardboard? Beige? Just down right boring? No way! Chantal and I love a rice cake! It even has the word ‘cake’ built in, what’s not to love! Yes they can be all of the above, making a mediocre snack, but add the right toppings and you won’t want to stop eating them. Sweet or savoury, the combinations are pretty much endless, limited only by our taste buds and foodie imaginations.
Sweet Rice Cake Ideas:
- Chantal’s Favourite Nutella and Berries – a small teaspoon of Nutella goes a long way! Spread over the rice cake and top with a handful of berries such as blueberries, raspberries or strawberries for a great chocolate combo.
- Leanne’s Favourite Peanut Butter and “Jam” – a small teaspoon of crunchy peanut butter (or whatever your preferred nut butter) topped with sliced strawberries (the “jam”). The fruit will add natural sweetness and vitamins compared to our favourite jarred fruit spread.
- Chantal’s Favourite Yoghurt and Berries – our good friend the yog sneaks in again for another filling snack! Spread the yoghurt over the rice cake and again top with your berries of choice. This is also one of my go to combos as well.
- Leanne’s Favourite Peanut Butter and Banana – spread a small teaspoon of peanut or nut butter and top with a few slices of banana. A sweet and savoury combination!
- Yog and Drizzle – a little drizzle of a favourite light sauce/syrup gives sweetness if you don’t fancy the fruit. Dollop and spread the yog before a glossy drizzle on top.
- Dippy Rice Cakes – to save on a little bit of mess (yog moustache), mix the berries/Nutella/nut butter/drizzle straight into the yog pot and promote the rice cake to a spoon.
Savoury Rice Cake Ideas:
- Light Cheese and Vegetables – lighter cheeses such as ricotta, mascarpone or the famous Philadelphia spread are great to add to a plain rice cake. A teaspoon or two won’t rocket the calories like other cheeses and still gives that savoury hint. Sliced tomatoes or cucumber make an easy vegetable topping and their flavours combine nicely with the soft cheese. A favourite of mine is ricotta, tomatoes and a sprinkle of basil.
- Light Cheese and Fruits – fruits such as grapes and figs work really well with soft cheeses, although, sweet and savoury isn’t everyone’s cup of tea!
- Avocado and Vegetables – if you are an avocado fan, a teaspoon or two spread over a rice cake is a winner with its creamy and smooth texture. Like nuts, avocado contains a lot of good fats making it another to watch out for with its higher calorie count. A good grind of black pepper, topped with sliced tomatoes, for example, make for another light snack.
Just think of rice cakes like you would a piece of wholemeal toast. Speaking of which, all of the above make terrific toast toppings for those days where a rice cake may just not cut the mustard.
Another of Chantal’s favourite snacks is hummus with carrot and cucumber sticks. Chickpeas are full of plant protein and very low in sugar and fat, making it a perfect snack. Preparing your own batch of hummus will make enough for three to four snack servings to merrily dip in your chosen crudités. As well as a snack, hummus is also a fantastic edition to a wrap, sandwich, rice cake or wholemeal toast for something a little bit different. This bowl of hummus goodness could not be easier (or faster) to create at home with just three store cupboard ingredients:
As with a lot of products, like the hummus recipe above, preparing your own smoothies ensures you know every single ingredient that goes in. Smoothies are an easy way to pack lots of nutrients into your diet from whole fruit and vegetables. Including fresh vegetables as well as a bit of fruit will help keep the sugar content down and, therefore, calories. Using a splash of water or blending with ice cubes will help loosen the smoothie, depending on how thick you like them and keep the ingredient cool and fresh. In addition, including milk, yoghurt or a teaspoon of nut butter into the smoothie blend gives another hit of protein to keep hunger at bay.
Super Smoothie Ideas:
- Banana and strawberry
- Banana and nut
- Apple, kale, spinach, celery and mint
- Mango, kale and spinach
- Pineapple, mango and coconut water
Our Final Favourites
If you have made it here without grabbing a quick bite to eat, I salute you, because I definitely munched my way through a rice cake or two whilst typing (the irony). So, as a reward, here are a final few snacks Chantal and I enjoy when hunger strikes:
- Soup – as it can be so low in calories, soup is not just for lunch.
- Overnight Oats – see our breakfast blog for lots of ideas on how to make your overnight oats more than just oats.
- Air Popped Popcorn – corn kernels are readily available in the supermarket. Just pop a handful into a microwaveable bowl, cover and microwave until the popping slows to about 1-2 pops. TIP: grind over a little salt and pepper or sprinkle over some spices for a savoury popcorn. For a sweeter taste, grate over a square of dark chocolate or drizzle a bit of honey.
- Dates and Peanut Butter – my absolute favourite go to mini snack! Slice open one or two Medjool dates, remove the stone if not already and spread in a little nut butter (crunchy peanut butter is my winner). Just a couple of dates are enough as they are higher in sugar due to being a dried fruit.
- Whole Fruit – banana, apple, pear, orange, whatever it may be, you can’t beat a simply sweet piece of fruit.
If you are vegetarian, vegan, gluten or dairy free, the majority of everything discussed can be substituted for your favourite diet alternative. Soya milk and yoghurt are higher in protein than other replacements, along with many other variations of cheese, bread and cereals to keep snacking fun and suitable for you.
The Snack Life Chose Us
We really hope this blog has been an enjoyable and inspiring read! Snacking is part of day to day life that plays an important role in whatever health goal we are working towards. It also gives a respite from all the things we are completing each day, ready to continue will full stomachs and satisfied taste buds.
We would love to hear your feedback to this blog and see all the wonderful snacks you create. Tag us on Instagram and Facebook.