Healthy Snacking


The Quick Answer:  It's true—snacking can trim your girth.  See the list below for snacks that are tasty, healthy and a good value.


There’s a strong link between this week’s topic of diabetes and obesity.  By good fortune, the annual report on obesity in America just came out.  In brief, we’re still losing the war against fat.  I couldn’t find a single success story but at least the growth of fat is slowing.  In America—the land of plenty—about 1/3 of adults are overweight, and another 1/3 are obese but this varies with region.

It’s fascinating to look at regional trends.  When both adults and children are considered, Hawaii does the best.  The Western states are next best, followed by New England.  The Southern states do the worst.   The data for diabetes, hypertension, impaired longevity, and stroke, all follow the regional obesity pattern.  Though the South struggles, we all need to do better.

I’m uncomfortable with the public debate against obesity.  First, a load of guilt is laid on the obese and guilt doesn’t motivate long-term change.  Second, overweight is a complex issue and public debate isn’t good at solving such problems.   So here are a couple of observations from hard-earned common sense:

1.     Don't cut calories to lose weight.   Despite all the focus on calories in recent decades, they aren’t the answer to overweight.  Hunger is a powerful force; you can resist it for a while but not forever.  A UCLA meta-study found that calorie-restriction diets actually resulted in an increase in weight for two-thirds of the participants.

2.     Forget about weight and focus on building a healthier lifestyle.  Take care of your health, and your weight will take care of itself.  The low-fat/low-calorie craze was a big mistake because it focused on subtle changes in processed foods, rather than a return to natural, whole foods.

3.     Natural foods are dense in nutrients but low in calories.  Processed foods are the opposite, high in calories and low in nutrients.  If you eat right, you can eat to comfortable fullness and enjoy food as well as a healthy weight.  Oh, add a longer life to the benefits.

4.     Physical activity is key to good health—experts call for at least three hours of activity that makes you sweat, spread through the week.  But it’s more than exercise—the key is to build a lifestyle that uses muscles, rather than laborsaving devices.  Yes, do your own gardening, even if you’re the only one on the block.  (We’ll address the TV—the antithesis of physicality—in a later post.)

5.     For more on finding a healthy weight, take a second look at these past posts: The Skinny on Overweight, and The End of Diets.  And think about making a goal for waist size.

The Healthiest Snacks

As you adopt the weekly Healthy Changes to fit your needs, you create a healthier lifestyle.  In the beginning, we reduced added sugars and eliminated trans fats.  Then we began to increase natural foods, beginning with whole grains, vegetables and fruits.  There’s more to come—the year is just half over—the subject of this week is healthy snacks.  From past comments, here are your favorites:

o   The best snack is a drink of refreshing water—it’s good for you.  Check this Healthy Change.

o   The next best value after water is snacking on leftovers.

o   Seasonal fruits are another bargain.  Checking the produce aisle we found these buys: cantaloupe at $.25/lb, watermelon for $.50/lb, and peaches at $.50 to .65/lb.

o   Popcorn, air-popped, or microwaved in a paper bag.  Sacha adds butter and a little Parmesan cheese. 

o   Homemade bread, especially toast.  My Mom liked toast with sliced avocado.  If you buy yeast in bulk, the price drops under $1/loaf. 

o   Bran muffins; homemade are hard to beat.

o   Kale chips.  Brie says to roast whole leaves with a touch of sea salt at 250 F until dry and crunchy. 

o   Hummus, the new guacamole.  It’s healthy; Michelle has it with veggies or pita chips.  (Maybe a future post on best hummus?)

o   Seasonal veggies.  Whole carrots are a bargain, $.45 to .60/lb. in our survey.  LC likes zucchini, carrots, and cauliflower.  Celery sticks with peanut butter are a tradition but Taylor prefers homemade almond butter. 

o   Green smoothies are a favorite, or any healthy fruit smoothie.

o   Homemade granola (check Katie’s recipe) makes a great snack. 

o   Trail mix, especially homemade, is great too.

o   Nuts are a treat; they cost more so buy direct or in bulk.  Jess gets his from 

o   Dried fruits are best for winter; I like prunes or dates with walnuts or pecans.

o   Cheese is good with homemade bread, crackers (that meet the whole grain rule of more fiber than sugar), in quesadillas, or with apples.

o   Hard-boiled eggs (omega-3 is improved by feeding the chickens natural pasture, flaxseed, or algae).

o   Sardines on crackers—an omega-3 bonus.

o   Edamame, warmed and salted.

Budget Wisdom:  Forget what you hear—healthy food is the best value, all costs considered.  Supermarkets have been fixing up their stores and raising prices lately, but I walked through an alternative store last night (Smart & Final) and was surprised to find nearly all the produce selling for less than 1 $/lb.  (A really healthy food, cantaloupe, was on sale for 25 cents a pound.  It’s today's health bargain.)  I calculated that a family of four could eat eight daily servings of fresh fruits and vegetables for just $135 a month.  (Not including whole grains, another good value, nuts, dairy and a little meat.)

Please Comment:  The 4th of July reminds that it’s summertime.  Please share your summer menu favorites and we'll add a post on seasonal menus.

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Reader Comments (11)

Thanks for sharing all of the healthy snack suggestions. It is such a great reminder! I signed up to participate in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) this year. I received my first 1/2 share last week. It is fun to try vegetables that I wouldn't normally buy. We had beet greens last week, and I have a big bunch of swiss chard to eat this week.

PS-Your blog is on my google reader, so I read it every time you update. Sorry if I don't comment very often. I appreciate all of the information you share!

July 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEmily

Well, we don't have AC here, so anything cooked outside. Potatoes in the sun oven are fabulous! And, we like a good salad. Also, Skip, do you have a running list of all the healthy changes in one place? That would be great.

July 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

My husband and I love to grill in the summer. It's a great way to pack in a lot of veggies, a little meat, and get a great quick, easy, healthy meal. We have a few varieties of TFD's, we like to call them (tin foil dinners). Here is one of our favorites to make:


Marinate 1lb. of raw chicken pieces in 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 T. vinegar, 1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning, 1 T. McCormick's Montreal Chicken Seasoning for about 30 min. or more. (marinade recipe is on back of the seasoning bottle)

Veggies: potatoes, broccoli, carrots chopped into bite size chunks. (zucchini, cauliflower, mushrooms, onions, peppers, also good)

Make a tin-foil packet by placing a few chicken pieces and a handful of each veggie on a sheet of tin-foil. You can sprinkle extra seasoning or juice from the marinade on top, if desired. Then place another sheet on top and roll up each side forming a tight seal. Make sure to leave enough room for the air inside to steam it.
tips: put the shiny side of the tin foil on the insides, spray with non-stick spray.

Hand your packets to your man to cook on the grill :) Cook on med/high with lid on the grill for 8 minutes on each side. Don't use tongs or you'll puncture your packet.

Yummy, light, and an easy clean-up after dinner! Also, they are great as leftovers.

July 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLC

My husband and I absolutely loved this recipe that I made up after a friend gave us a couple bags full of zucchini and squash! They went perfectly with salmon and spinach salad.

Simply Summer Salmon Supper
Serves 2 | 20 min cook time

2 Salmon Filets
2 Tbl Olive Oil, divided
1 Tbl Red Wine Vinegar
1 tsp Dill, dried
2 Tbl Lemon Juice
1 Zucchini, medium
1 Yellow Squash, medium
1 Tbl Tuscani Spice Blend (or garlic powder and salt/pepper)
2 cups Baby Spinach
10 Raspberries
10 Mandarin Orange wedges
1 Tbl Raspberry Vinaigrette
4 Medium/Large Strawberries
6 Cherries, pitted
1/2 cup Vanilla Yogurt

Whisk together 1 Tbl of oil, red wine vinegar, lemon juice and dill. Coat salmon in the mixture then place salmon in a pan over medium heat. Pour remaining oil mixture over the salmon. Cook until done, turning no more than twice. 8-12 minutes.

Meanwhile, slice zucchini and squash on an angle. Toss in remaining olive oil and tuscani spices. Saute in a pan over medium-high heat until desired doneness. 6-8 minutes.

Toss together raspberries, mandarin oranges, spinach and vinaigrette. (Add nuts if desired!)

Dice the strawberries and cherries and toss in yogurt for dessert.

July 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRill

What a smart, informative blog. It's been very helpful in planning my menus to keep your tips in mind.

Snacks have always been hardest for me because I always want to default to the easy stuff out of a package. But I'm going to rectify that now! I've taken your list and printed it to place on the fridge. Now maybe when we're all trying to think of snack ideas it will be easier to choose something more healthful. Thanks!

July 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJeannie

I try to eat a smoothie every day with spinach (or some other leafy greens), carrots, banana and frozen berries. I notice a huge difference in the way I feel on the days I have a smoothie, and I tend to make better food choices throughout the day as well. It's a quick and easy way to get a few more servings of produce, and even my husband, who deplores most vegetables, will drink a smoothie with no complaint.

July 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterShelby

Skip, I am going to print this post and put it in my kitchen! Sometimes I run out of ideas for healthy snacks for me and my kids and my husband (who works at home). This is so helpful. Thanks to you and your readers!

July 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

Shelby, so many people love the green smoothies. I'm starting to think of them as the new salad. It's true what you sat, eating better is self-reinforcing. The better you do, the better you want to do. Best.

July 13, 2011 | Registered CommenterSkip Hellewell

I'm working at a preschool this summer and at snack time the kids have real graham crackers (Sylvester Graham would be very unhappy with the "Honey Maid" variety of his creation that is seen as standard today) and cut up fruit that the students bring in. I think "owning" the fruit makes the kids more enthusiastic about eating it. When I was in preschool, I had a Lois Ehlert book called "Eating the Alphabet" and my family would try a new fruit and vegetable from the book every week.

The air conditioning in our house hasn't been working, so we have been enjoying caprese salad (fun for kids if you make skewers with cherry tomatoes,) zucchini "spaghetti" (the summertime equivalent of spaghetti squash,) ceviche, massaged kale salad, cucumbers, and anything grilled.

My summer snacks are cold cut-up seasonal fruits and vegetables, frozen yogurt and fruit, maple milk, and salsa and guacamole with chips.

July 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKatherine

This list of snacks is PERFECT! My mouth is watering just reading it (that could be because we are smack dab in the middle of mealtimes - the perfect snacking time and the time when I usually reach for those processed snacks and ruin my dinner!!). As soon as I started reading it I thought it a great idea to make up the list with my kids (ages 5 and 2), maybe draw pictures of the food too, and post it on the fridge so that when they are hungry or it's time for a snack, they can come point to what they want. A win-win situation for Mom and Kids! Love it!

July 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterClaire

Claire, your praise is too generous, "PERFECT!" Last night I found an old can of olives in the refrigerator and explaimed out loud: "I forgot olives!" Is there an older, more traditional snack? Well, maybe cheese, or a hunk of fresh-baked bread. Love your win-win idea of making pictures for snack selection. Best.

July 19, 2011 | Registered CommenterSkip Hellewell

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