What's the first thing you do when you get home from school? If you're like most teens, you raid the refrigerator. But snacking on the wrong foods can add unwanted calories and make you even hungrier when mealtime rolls around. Eating snacks low in nutritional value does nothing to make you smarter or stronger, either. The key is to choose healthy snacks that will fill you up and help nourish you without adding too many calories.
Snacks and Your Weight
Favorite teen snacks include chips, soft drinks, cookies, candy bars, pizza, burgers and fries, and ice cream. Yet all of these high-calorie snacks can cause weight gain. What happens when teens notice that they've put on a few pounds? Many stop snacking altogether and begin to "fast" for hours at a time.
The problem is, you set yourself up for overeating when you go for five or six hours without eating. Many nutritionists believe that we should eat smaller meals every three to four hours (instead of three large meals per day). This may help your body's blood sugar levels stay stable. Providing a steady supply of glucose to your brain helps keep you from having mood swings and getting cranky. It also helps to reduce the chances of binging.
Good News and Bad News about Snacking
Here's the good news: the best way to maintain a normal weight (and be smarter and stronger) is to stop depriving yourself. Go ahead and eat a healthy snack between meals, and enjoy it! Snacking between meals ensures that your body will not run out of fuel. And common sense tells you that it's hard to make wise choices at dinnertime if your stomach is growling.
The bad news is that if you make poor choices or eat too many calories at snack time, you'll probably gain weight. If your snack choices are determined by how you feel at the moment or by the not-so-nutritious selections in the vending machine, you're likely to overeat and miss out on important nutrients.
That's why it's good to plan ahead. See the list of Smart Snack Suggestions (below), or come up with your own healthy favorites. Then, post this list on your refrigerator door. Make sure you or your parents buy these foods from the supermarket, so you have a variety to choose from each afternoon.
Betcha Can't Eat Just One!
Even when you choose healthy snacks, it can be hard to limit your snack portions. That's especially true when you get home from school and are ready to devour anything that's not moving!
To control portions, measure one serving of your snack the night before and put this in a zipper plastic sandwich bag. Then your pre-measured, packaged snack will be ready when you get home.
For example, you could put 1 cup of your favorite whole- grain cereal in the plastic bag and leave it out on the kitchen counter. When you get home, pour the cereal into a bowl and top it with fruit and low-fat milk. Or put five whole-grain crackers in your sandwich bag. The next afternoon, grab a string cheese out of the fridge and enjoy your snack.
You can also take your snack bag to school with you, if you're staying late for sports or clubs. It's better to know what you're eating (trail mix, cheese and crackers, or almonds and dried cranberries) and than to impulse-snack from the vending machine or fast food restaurants.
What Foods Are Best?
The best snacks include complex carbohydrates, low-fat dairy, and low-fat protein:
- Complex carbohydrates. Good choices include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and legumes, hummus, and edamame ( steamed Japanese soybeans).
- Low-fat dairy products. Good choices include low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese.
- Low-fat protein. Good choices include lean chicken, turkey or fish
What Foods Do I Watch Out For?
Avoid refined carbohydrates, foods that are high in sugar and white flour. Limit white potatoes (or chips), sweets, candy, sugary drinks, and pastries. These foods can cause your blood sugar to spike rapidly, which may trigger a hunger attack when it falls again.
Also stay away from expensive "power bars." If you look at the label, you'll see most protein bars, energy bars, and sports bars are just candy bars in disguise (they've added a few vitamins). Most power bars are high in calories, too.
Smart Snack Suggestions
The following snacks will help fill you up and keep you going until your next meal. Many can be pre-packaged the night before:
- Apple slices spread with peanut butter and sprinkled with raisins.
- Banana sliced in half and spread lightly with peanut butter.
- Bean burger on a whole-grain bun with lettuce and tomato.
- Bean burrito.
- Black bean dip with whole-grain crackers.
- Cheese toast (whole grain bread with low-fat cheese).
- Cut-up vegetables with low-fat ranch dressing.
- Edamame (steamed Japanese soybeans).
- Hummus on a whole-wheat pita.
- Low-fat yogurt with a tablespoon of chopped walnuts.
- Oatmeal made with low-fat milk with strawberries.
- Peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole-grain bread. (Use half a banana and spread the peanut butter lightly.)
- Popcorn without butter (sprinkle with Parmesan cheese).
- Red grapes and string cheese.
- Rice cakes spread lightly peanut butter (spread lightly).
- Serving of almonds and dried cranberries or blueberries.
- Slice of cheese or veggie pizza.
- Small bagel with low-fat cream cheese.
- Soy nuts and string cheese.
- Soymilk smoothie.
- String cheese and whole-grain crackers.
- Trail mix (measure one serving).
- Tuna sandwich on whole-grain bread.
- Turkey and low-fat cheese sandwich on whole grain bread with lettuce and tomato.
- Vegetable soup with whole-grain crackers.
- Whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk.
- Whole-grain English muffin spread lightly with peanut butter.