the snack plate

A few years ago I was offered a position at a medical device start-up with an improved syringe for performing epidurals.  Mothers are experts on the blessed relief from labor pain given by epidural anesthesia, but often have stories about a complication they or a friend may have suffered.  We thought that our device could reduce the risk of certain complications but what we learned was that doctors are reluctant to switch away from whichever epidural method they were first trained to use. 

Introducing a new medical device is a tedious process so like many start-ups, this company offered a pantry of free snacks.  To keep us near the office, they also provided a free lunch brought in from local take-out restaurants.  The dishes were ordered from a stack of menus and were typically fried foods.  In the beginning I limited myself to salad for lunch, avoided the free snacks, and mostly drank water.  In time I tired of lunching on poorly made salads and began to order cooked dishes—fried in low-cost oils, I suspect.  I also began to snack on the chips, candies and soft drinks offered.  Just an occasional snack in the beginning, but without really noticing my addiction grew.  Within a year I suffered an increase in weight and a troubling decline in health. 

Have you or your spouse had this experience?  The first thing I did was start bringing my own snacks to eat during work breaks.  After I left this company I began to read about healthier eating.  I was continually being surprised—about sugar, trans fats, etc.—by things that I didn’t know, or had forgotten, that were essential to healthy living.  Two years and perhaps a hundred books later I started this blog.  Today’s post is about the snacks we eat—the best indicator of our addiction to unhealthy food.  Here are a couple of reports:

• This N.Y. Times article about classic junk snacks has a list that includes Cracker Jacks, Tootsie Rolls, Double Bubble, Twinkies and the Big Gulp/Double Gulp.  Read it and weep.

• Breakfast sets up the snacks:  Dr. David Ludwig of Tufts University and Children’s Hospital Boston reported that a healthy (low G.I.) breakfast results in 81% less snacking calories during the day, compared to a sugary (high G.I.) breakfast.

• The AJCN article “Does hunger and satiety drive eating anymore?” found in the 30 years from the mid-‘70s to 2006, adult snack calories grew from 200 daily to 470; children increased from 240 to 500 calories.  You know where those calories wind up.

• Another N.Y. Times article, discussed how parental guilt and the decline of planned meals add up to giving in to kids on their favorite snacks (typically the worst food available).

• Factoid:  this year we’ll average about a dollar spent each day on snacks—redirecting this money to healthy food is the best opportunity to improve your diet on a fixed budget.

Snacks are an enormous business in our society.  Take a walk through your grocery store, down the candy aisle, the chip section, the cookie row, and through the cracker area.  (You can remember these as the four “C’s”.)  If this made you thirsty wander by the aisle for sugary drinks—it’s the biggest section.  If there’s an in-store bakery check it out.  These are the most toxic section of the grocery store and it’s a big, profitable business.  People are starting to wise up on toxic snacks and this makes Food Inc. nervous.  They monitor us through research like “Mintel’s Healthy Snacking Report”.  Some recent observations:

• The snack market is divided into 20 snack categories:  cereal, cheese, crackers, cookies, fruit, ice cream, meat snacks, dried fruit/fruit snacks, trail mix, popcorn, chips, pretzels, raw veggies, rice cakes, snack bars, yogurt, bagels/bialys (a flat bread), canned soup, chocolate candy bar, nuts/seeds.

• Food Inc’s big question:  How much taste will we give up for our health?

• Consumers want healthy but they also want tasty.  Corn and potato chips are an example of our bipolar behavior:  72% of consumers eat them but only 4% think they’re healthy.  Ditto for packaged cookies.

• At the other end of the spectrum are nuts and seeds:  79% of us eat them and 87% think they’re healthy.  More expensive, but you get both taste and health.  Add fresh fruit: though just 66% partake regularly, 96% see them as healthy.  (What is the other 4% thinking?)

A high dependence on snacks is an indicator of poor health.  But even healthy people need a mid-morning or mid-afternoon refresher.  Just remember, the more sugar in the snack, the sooner you’ll crave more.  So what to eat?  Here are our favorites:

• Raw vegetables like carrots and celery.  Actually these aren’t my favorites, but it’s hard to get five vegetable servings a day if you don’t get at least one snacking.

• Fruit.  We all have our favorites but cantaloupe and watermelon are underrated.

• Nuts and seeds—not the cheapest snack but a good health value.

• I like nut/dried fruit mixtures: dates with walnuts, or dried mangos with pecans. 

• Popcorn, but not the sugared or microwave products.  Is there a better mix of taste and value than homemade popcorn?

• Yogurt—buy the brand with the least added sugar and add your own fruit.

• Dark chocolate.  I like dark chocolate chips with almonds or walnuts.

• Granola or its cousin, trail mix—purchased or homemade.

• Crackers that meet the grain rule (whole grains; more grams of natural fiber than added sugar).  Yes, I’ll visit the cracker aisle and give a list in a future post. 

Children naturally understand healthy snacks.  A mom told of overhearing her children playing a made-up game: create a healthy snack.  The daughter was the judge of her brother’s entries.  The first brother’s snack was slices of carrot on a Graham cracker.  The next entry was a child’s multivitamin covered with honey.  They have much to learn, but children are teachable and more observant than we realize.

Impulse often drives our snacking and the lack of planning makes for less healthy snacks.  We can also lose track of how much we nibble on in a day.  The solution: Make a snack plate about mid-morning, or whenever you can.  Lay out a healthy mix of snacks for the day and enjoy.  (When I forget to do this, I regret it.)

(Or a snack bag instead of a plate if you work away from home.)

Please comment on your favorite healthy snacks.  (I’m expecting a LOT of comments, please.)

Need a reminder? Download our Healthy Change reminder card. Print and fold, then place in your kitchen or on your bathroom mirror to help you remember the Healthy Change of the week.

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Reader Comments (50)

Hi Dad
When I want a sweet snack I grab a handful of pecans, a handful of dried cherries, and a handful of 60% cacao chocolate chips.. so yummy and the kids like it too.

March 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrooke

After school snack time is almost like dinner at our house as far as we all sit around the table together and discuss the ups and downs of the school day. Sometimes I whip out the expensive snacks and we have nuts with cheese or yogurt, and a rare treat: kosher dill pickles. The usual is a slice of wheat bread with jam and a banana from the counter. The kids know, though, that if they get hungry any time they can help themselves to anything in the fruit or veggie crisper. They like that they don't have to ask and I like that I don't have to answer or help them get it. I try to keep at least four or five different choices ready and available. Oh, they do have to ask about the blueberries and raspberries because those are my favorite and I usually don't share unless I'm feeling generous.

March 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEmily D.

Since my kids are young and have a hard time eating nuts, raw carrots, and celery, they love string cheese, yogurt and cottage cheese for snacks. My three year old loves apples and will eat one or two a day. If her little brother finds the apple lying around (which sometimes happens) he'll chomp on it for a while. We also love all sorts of other fruit.

P.S. I didn't like my epidural with my first, so I opted to not have one with my second :)

March 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

I usually have some sort of vegies and fruits cut up in the fridge. We also have trail mix and fruit and nut mixes. Sometimes I make bran or banana muffins. My newest quest is to make some good homemade crackers, so far no luck, I think they are a bit tricky.

March 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

Greek yogurt, walnuts, apples, cocoa dusted almonds (I know, but it's the only way my daugther will eat them and I'm trying to get protein into her diet), bananas, dried apricots (only a few), small square of chocolate.

March 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

I also have two really young kids (both under 3) and so some of the nuts or hard veggies don't work too well. We like fresh fruit, hard-boiled eggs, cheese sticks, pretzels, or popcorn.

March 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStacey

Home made popcorn is my FAVORITE snack! I like to put hot sauce in the oil before cooking it. Then the popcorn is spicy and flavorful.

March 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTaylor K

I love to make a mix of nuts (recently I figured out that many brands add oil...I switched brands after that!) yogurt covered raisins, chocolate covered raisins, and cocoroast almonds. I also like to pack prunes and dried apricots as a dessert.

My little boy is 10 months old and he loves to snack on peas, blueberries, and cheese.

March 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFM

Every day I head to work with a combination of the following - sometimes it all gets eaten sometimes I have leftovers for the next day. But it keeps me from running across the street to the mini mart for chips or a candy bar!

-Veggie mini quiches that I make once a week in a cupcake tin.
-Celery and other cut veggies with adams peanut butter, toby's tofu pate or low fat laughing cow cheese
-a handful of raw almonds
-low fat baby bell cheese
-dill pickles or other pickled veggies
-cottage cheese
-fresh fruit

March 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKatey Dutton

Just wanted to let you know that I love your blog, and that it has been helping me and my family be more healthy! Thank you!

March 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKristi

Right now I don't snack, or at least I try not to, because I'm trying to lose weight and I find that staying out of the kitchen completely is best for me. But I have a baby who is almost one and I realize he doesn't care about my weight loss attempts so this is definitely on my mind!

We try to buy seasonally and locally, so during the winter he will likely be snacking on an abundance of fruits and vegetables. Right now when he is still very young I try to keep mashed potatoes or other similar soft mashed vegetables in the fridge for him, and I think I'll try hard boiling an egg for him as well. A friend of mine at church brings her son craisins, and last week during chuch I let my son munch on bits of homemade whole wheat bread (well 75% whole wheat), dried mangos, and an orange.

His very favorite snack though, is roasted apples! He loves them when they are still frozen. Just cut in half and remove the core, roast at 375 until mushy enough for your baby, peel the skins off, and freeze.

March 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJenna

Whole grain crackers with low-fat string cheese and grape tomatoes, English cucumber slices, applesauce, yogurt, air-popped popcorn with a drizzle of melted butter, bananas, apples, yogurt and chocolate covered raisins for a treat, and toasted almonds to bring out their amazing flavor. I've enjoyed reading the other comments! As a mom with three small children, I'm always searching for new snack ideas!

March 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlison

Hard boiled eggs and pickles are a great idea! I didn't think of those until I read them in the comments above.

I like to keep fruit leather around, almonds, fresh fruit and veggies. I think the biggest reason we go to the "c" packaged foods is because they are quick and easy. My husband rarely goes to the fresh veggies because he has to take the time to cut them up. After reading this post, I realize I should just individually package everything when I get home from the grocery store. Maybe do one big veggie-chopping fest. Then package them up so we can just grab and go.

March 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRikki

Skip, I love your blog. Mostly because I am not necessarily as healthy as I could be, but I am making those small steps, and your blog is really motivating me without making me feel bad. They are just small changes that we can all make one day at a time!
We have a bunch of square containers in our pantry that I fill with snacks that the kids can eat when they are hungry. They include: Quakies (the healthier ones), cashews/nuts, raisins, fruit leather (stretch island fruit co.), black licorice (a great snack for those who want something a little sweet!), crackers, pretzels (these are also a great snack if you get snyders brand--without all the bad stuff added), mangoes, sometimes mini wheats and granola bars. When we are leaving the house for an outing, I grab a few things from the snacks to take with us. Our car is dirty... but we hardly ever stop at fast food restaurants anymore!
Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge!

March 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrittany

Also, we have the fruit and veggie drawer available to the kids at anytime. Though veggies is where the kids aren't as excited. I am trying harder at just having them available for them to eat so hopefully they will some day! It has helped me to snack on better things.

March 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrittany

It used to be easier to give the kids healthy snacks when they were at home. Now that they're in school, they still get time for snacks, but I find it harder to give them fresh items that won't get smashed in a big "school snack bin." We have found that homemade snack mixes work well. Normally on Sunday, the kids get in the kitchen with me and we pull out the pretzels, nuts, dried fruits. dark chocolate chips, crackers, etc. and the snack bags, and the kids put together their own mixes for the week. I'd love to hear about other ideas for SCHOOL snacks.

March 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChristina


I love your blog. I found it after your daughter wrote on DesignMom a few weeks ago. I don't have much to say in the way of snacking. I found out today that because I'm a nursing mom and LOVE the dairy I'm making my baby sick. So, I'm on the quest of non-dairy alternatives. This post was perfect for me. Thank-you so much!

March 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCamaronO

i have a 2 (almost 3) year old, and an 11 month old. we often snack on bananas, apples, or wheat toast with either some hummus and a slice of havarti cheese (we have that for lunch sometimes too!), or a little butter with sliced tomatoes on it. when we are on the go i typically have raisins, yogurt covered pretzels, and crackers. my 2 year old would love to just snack on cheese all day if he had the choice : )

i love this blog! thank you for all your wonderful insight.

March 24, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermegan

Snacking is a problem in my house, so lately I've just had fruit, cheese, crackers, bread/jam, and some cereal (non sweetened). The children are having a hard time with this and constantly ask for brownies, cookies, etc... We are sure trying to eat better to live a healthier life.

My youngest daughter struggles with asthma. I know that msg causes her to cough so I try to avoid msg. I bought some granola which has no msg or any other msg names in it but it still makes her cough. So, I'm assuming it has msg in it somewhere. I'm hopin you do an article on msg to put it out there for all of us to watch out for. Love your blog!

March 24, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterneenee

I love your blog! I also found it from you daughters post on Thanks for all of the great information!

March 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEmily

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