I’m a serial grazer.
…and a self-proclaimed health and fitness freak.
I snack my way through my days, and I’ve never felt so healthy and energized in my life.
But—wait. Isn’t snacking bad? Doesn’t it interfere with your regular meals and ultimately make you eat more? Doesn’t it lead to eating more junk and less real food?
It certainly can.
But here’s what I’ve noticed: in our attempts to avoid snacking, we sometimes end up making things worse. Inevitably, there will be times (like, every day?) when we’re just too busy to prepare a nice, well-rounded lunch for ourselves. So we put it off. Grab a few bites off the kids’ plates to tide us over. Eventually, our blood sugar hits rock bottom, and our desperate brains start screaming, “CARBS! SUGAR! NOW!”
Guess what the chances are that we’ll make healthy choices at that point?
Now, compare that to the chances we’ll end up head-first in the pantry—frantic and shaky—scarfing down four (healthy?!?) granola bars without breathing. (I call it Panic Snacking, aka Enemy Number One for weight and mood management.)
It has nothing to do with willpower. It’s biology.
Not something to be ashamed of. Just something to be aware of, and prepared for.
My solution: just embrace the snacking!
BUT it’s not the kind of snacking many of us think of.
What I’m talking about is more like intuitive eating, with thoughtfully chosen, readily available (read: GRABBABLE) real foods in place of the granola bars. I make sure they’re there when I need them, I eat them whenever I’m ready, and afterwards, I feel calmly energized, rather than ashamed and blasting off on the next temporary sugar high.
Maybe it helps to change the name…instead of snacks, think: mini meals.
The goal is to keep the body humming along all day—blood sugar stable, metabolism churning, mood bright—without spending any time in the kitchen. (Because, frankly, I hate spending time in the kitchen.)
Why eat this way??
I used to feel guilty about snacking. Like I was “doing it wrong” if my breakfast didn’t keep me satisfied long enough, or I was ravenous at 3 PM. Too often, holding out for meals or waiting until I “had the time” to make something just meant eating nothing or eating crap—either way, I ended up feeling cranky and exhausted.
Since embracing and healthifying my approach to “snacking,” I’ve become a totally different person.
These days, I’m wildly energetic, even with kids who still get up at night. When 4 PM rolls around, I don’t have to stare at the clock, waiting for my husband to walk through the door—now, I think, “We have an hour and a half until dinner. Let’s hit the splash pad!”
I even have energy left to hit the gym after the kids go to bed, and still get some quality time in with the hubby when I get home.
Obviously that’s not every single day, but it’s a lot of them.
Even my husband has said (with obvious relief), “You seem much happier these days.”
It’s not that I’m sleeping more than anyone else. It’s not that I have more help, or more free time, or less challenging kids, or whatever.
It’s the food.
I eat food that nourishes my body, and I’m only able to do it because I (finally!) found a way to make it easy.
Here’s how it works:
–Within an hour of waking up in the morning, eat something healthy and satisfying. It’s so important (psychologically) to get the day off to a promising start.
–Every 2-3 hours, and/or at the first sign of hunger or an energy dip, grab a mini meal. Eat it standing up while holding a baby if you have to—just eat it. Stop when you’re satisfied, not stuffed.
–Stop completely within a few hours of dinner. Eat a full meal with your family.
–Don’t plan to snack in the evening (except to enjoy an evening treat after the kids go down, of course!). Not because you’re “being good” but because you’ve had enough calories throughout the day to feel satisfied. (Exception: if you work out in the evenings, like I do, get some carbs and healthy fat when you’re done. I like to microwave a small plate of tortilla chips and cheese when I get home from the gym.)
So what does an ideal “mini meal” look like?
Basic mini meal criteria:
–Mostly real food (not packaged), veggies a plus
–High in protein (meat, eggs, cheese, nuts)
–Includes some healthy fat (avocado, healthy oils, nut butter, dairy)
–Low sugar. Low carb.
–Satisfying (per your personal perception of that word)
And last but definitely not least: SUPER. GRABBABLE. I’m talking a few minutes, tops, plus minimal clean-up. Assembling a salad takes too long. Scrambling eggs takes too long. Turning on the stove or oven? Easy enough, but I know I won’t do it.
Everyone has different levels of tolerance for on-the-spot meal prep. Personally, when I’m busy and hungry, I’ve found that I’m not even willing to shell a hard-boiled egg, even if they’re pre-cooked and waiting in the fridge. (I know, how lazy am I?)
Below are some examples of mini meals I use. The first 3 are my current go-to’s—I eat ‘em constantly!
I’ve divided the list into two sections: the first includes super quick on-the-spot meal ideas, and the second has ideas that require some advance prep.
Situation A: Emergency! Feed Me Now!
1. Deli turkey avocado roll-ups (not the packaged stuff—get it fresh from the deli! Then just roll a few slices of avocado into the turkey and devour.)
Variations: Try thinly sliced carrots or cheese sticks instead of (or in addition to!) avocado. You could also try adding mustard (my personal favorite), hummus, nut butter, or even a smear of cream cheese.
2. Protein bowls: leftover veggies + leftover meat + leftover grains with light dressing (I love Bolthouse Farms dressings). Dump it all into a bowl, microwave, add dressing, and devour! I make this constantly. A typical combo for me might include leftover steamed broccoli, chicken sausage, and brown rice with yogurt honey mustard dressing.
(P.S. When I’m cooking for my family, I’m often thinking about what I can make more of or set aside for protein bowls later.)
3. Cottage cheese + grapes or apple chunks (does that sound weird? I promise it’s soooo good.)
6. Salad shrimp + salsa or guacamole (salad shrimp cooks FAST! Or you can cook it in advance and eat it cold.)
7. Egg-stuffed “baked” peppers (hollow out a bell pepper and crack 2-3 eggs into it. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and microwave until eggs are cooked through.)
Variations: Add diced cooked bacon or other meat for even more protein.
8. Cubed ham + cubed cheese + cherry tomatoes + drizzle of oil. Done and done.
9. Pita bread or tortilla + nut butter or hummus
10. Prosciutto wrapped melon slices (sweet + salty goodness!)
11. Meat + cheese cucumber sandwiches (use sliced cucumbers as the “bread” for mini sandwiches. Yes, sliced cukes are tiny, which means you get a LOT of sandwiches!)
12. Apple slices + nut butter (a lighter choice—great for the last snack of the day before dinner, or anytime you just need to buy an hour)
Situation B: Willing to Prep in Advance
13. Chicken apple lettuce wraps (make the filling in advance—toss it into some lettuce when you’re ready to devour.)
14. Chicken and egg stuffed tomatoes (combine cooked chicken—I like to use rotisserie chicken from the grocery store—with hardboiled egg and a simple vinaigrette, then stuff into hollowed-out beefsteak tomatoes. Seems fancy, but it’s actually super simple.)
Variations: Stuff the tomatoes with guacamole or hummus instead.
15. Tuna cucumber bites (make the tuna mixture in advance and then just plop it on some sliced cucumbers. Skip the hollowing out business—ain’t nobody got time for that, right?)
Variations: Serve the tuna mixture in a hollowed-out pepper (the hollowing out process is much quicker with peppers!), wrap it in lettuce or a tortilla, or plop it on a piece of toast and melt some cheese on top.
17. Roasted cauliflower with bacon and garlic (why not?)
19. Broccoli tots (great for sharing with the kids! Or not.)
20. Cooked chicken drumsticks (awesome cold, easy to grab, and edible with one hand!)
Making healthy eating work
Finding the right eating strategy is all about being realistic about your life. The best intentions are useless if you just aren’t able to follow through.
If you find that you’re too busy to feed yourself during the day, in a healthy and thoughtful way, then you need a new strategy!
I “snack” because it’s the only method that works for my life. It’s not about what I’m capable of doing, but what I will actually do.
Bottom line: it works because it’s easy.
And let me tell you, at the crazy stage in life that is young motherhood, it’s a lifesaver!
What eating strategy works best for you?
What struggles do you have with eating?
What mini meal ideas would you add to this list?