The 9 Smartest, Healthiest Snacking Tips to Follow Every Day, According to Nutritionists

Healthy, mindful, satisfying snacking is the key to quelling hanger and boosting energy between meals.

Let's get one thing straight: Snacking isn't a bad thing. Yes, frequently and mindlessly munching on sugar-loaded, nutrient-deficient snacks that do nothing to boost your health, energy, or mood is bad. But more generally, the fact that you need a snack (or two) between meals doesn't make you weak or lazy or unhealthy—it makes you a human being with a normal appetite (what a relief!).

Snacking is necessary—and encouraged—to keep you fueled and focused, satisfied and stable, so you can not only survive busy days but thrive every day. But as with anything, there's an art to healthy snacking: finding wholesome foods that will quiet your hunger, reward you with powerful nutrients, and provide the motivation you need to tackle whatever the day brings.

healthy-snacking: nuts and dried fruit
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"There is absolutely nothing wrong with snacking. It's the type of food you snack on that can help you maintain your mood, mental clarity, and metabolism—or break them," says Amy Lee, M.D., a board-certified physician specializing in internal medicine, member of the National Board of Physician Nutrition Specialists and the American Board of Obesity Medicine, and Head of Nutrition for Nucific.

In other words, we don't need to stop eating between meals—we need to rethink what we eat and how we approach eating. See the difference? "It's about being smart with your snacks and making every little thing you eat count," she says. (For starters, Dr. Lee recommends avoiding processed snack foods packed with simple sugars.) Read on for more nutritionists' everyday healthy snacking tips.

01 of 09

Understand why you're snacking.

According to Dr. Lee, most of the time people snack out of boredom—or simply the need to do something with their hands. Simply noticing your motivation for opening the fridge or pantry is a great first step to becoming a healthier snacker. Will a snack truly fix the problem? (And if so, great! Proceed with your mid-day bite.) Or is snacking an automatic reflex or a pleasing, temporary distraction to avoid a different (unpleasant) task? "Next time, before grabbing that snack, stop and question if you really need the snack, or if you're just bored or anxious," she says.

02 of 09

Honor your hunger cues.

Understanding when to snack is a common conundrum. A good rule of thumb: Don't snack just because it's part of your daily routine; do it when you're actually a little bit hungry. Just because you're used to grabbing a granola bar and coffee at 10 a.m. doesn't mean you actually need it every day.

"I tell my clients to use a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is starving and 10 is stuffed," says Jessica Crandall, RDN, a registered dietitian and founder of Vital RD. "You need a snack when you're at 3 or 4." (Note: Don't let yourself get to 2 or 1 either!) Many people won't hit the 3 or 4 hunger mark until around three hours after a meal, but others will get there sooner. In those cases, experts say, don't punish your rumbling belly! Go ahead and have a bite.

03 of 09

Schedule your snack time.

For some, the above advice is a little too loosey-goosey—it requires some practiced intuition about your appetite. If that sounds like you, approach snack times with more structure. Just make sure to plan out grazing sessions for times when you really need it. According to Dr. Lee, if you set a time to allow yourself to snack, you can save yourself from unintentionally overeating or snacking on junk. "Also, by scheduling, you won't lose track of time and find yourself ravenously hungry, which can result in bad choices," she explains.

04 of 09

Prioritize protein and fiber.

Once you've determined that you do need food, follow these general nutrition guidelines to ensure you end up eating a worthwhile snack: Choose something around 150 to 250 calories, and about 3 grams of fiber, 5 grams of protein, and no more than 12 grams of fat. Why? "Protein and fiber help you feel full and satisfied, so you shouldn't feel the need to grab another snack soon after, and you'll be less likely to overeat at your next meal," Crandall says.

"If you're hungry, and your body needs a quick pick-me-up, focus on foods that are satiating or at least hold you over until your next meal without all the drowsiness-inducing sugar," adds Dr. Lee, who reiterates the importance of prioritizing protein-forward snacks. Try hard-boiled eggs, veggies with hummus, Greek yogurt with berries, or steamed edamame with a hint of sea salt.

Realistically, hitting all these markers perfectly with every snack is easier said than done. So aim for overall balance. If one snack is short on protein, for instance, make sure your next one has a little extra.

RELATED: 6 Terrific Sources of Plant Protein for an Added Boost of Fuel

05 of 09

Try adding a fruit or vegetable to every snack.

Think of ways to incorporate servings of produce into your snacks—you'll instantly add a little fiber and some good fats (think: avocado) to every bite. Craving some sharp cheddar cheese? Try pairing it with tart, green apple slices instead of crackers (or substitute some crackers for just half an apple). Chips and guac sound good? Use cucumber slices or red bell peppers in place of chips to scoop up guacamole, hummus, and other dips. Instead of pretzels with peanut butter, try celery and carrot sticks with a tablespoon or two of nut butter.

RELATED: 5 Filling, Nutritious Snacks That Keep Inflammation at Bay

06 of 09

Snack without distractions.

Mindful snacking sounds like a wellness buzzword, but it just means to be more present while you eat. Translation: Try not to multitask. Instead, enjoy (or simply notice) the flavors of the food (you can apply this strategy at regular meals too). A 2009 study conducted at the University of Birmingham, in England, showed that when you're distracted during mealtime, you may be more likely to over-snack later on. "When we eat, we encode information about a meal, including the flavors, the textures, and how satisfied we feel, which is called a meal memory," says the study's co-author Suzanne Higgs, a psychology professor specializing in the psychobiology of appetite at the University of Birmingham. Watching TV or answering emails may prevent you from forming proper meal memories, she says, which can trick your brain and lead you to snack on junk later, even though you may not be physiologically hungry.

07 of 09

Slow down and give grazing a go.

"The act of eating little bits can help extend the time of snacking, which can also reinforce the idea to the brain that you're eating," Dr. Lee says. "Don't 'inhale' your food in one big gulp, because your brain takes time to register that you're putting food into the body (this can take up to 20 minutes!) to make that connection."

As an example of grazing-worthy snacks, Dr. Lee recommends making a healthy version of trail mix by combining variations of nuts, dark chocolate chips, and dried fruits. Grab a handful at a time for a snack that sustains. "Even cutting up a protein bar into smaller, bite-size pieces to make it last longer works," she says.

08 of 09

Serve your snack on a fresh plate.

Treat each snack as a mini-meal by taking one serving and, if possible, putting it on a plate, suggests Marissa Lippert, RD, a registered dietitian in New York City. Why? We tend to associate a clean plate with satisfaction and a feeling of fullness (something an empty 100-calorie–pack rarely supplies), she says.

09 of 09

Stock the kitchen and plan ahead.

On your next grocery run, replace less nutritious options (cookies, chips, crackers, candies) with fresh fruits and veggies, low-sugar protein bars, and nuts and seeds, so you won't give in to your thoughts when it's time to snack. Meal prep your heart out: Cook up a batch of hard-boiled eggs for yourself on Sunday so you can snack on them all week; wash, slice, and store veggies in clear containers in the crisper drawer; stock up on your favorite nuts and place them front and center of the snack cabinet; and assemble cheese-and-fruit snack packs ahead of time.

RELATED: 12 Superfoods to Stock in Your Pantry—and Recipes You Need to Know

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