“There are some days where I forget to eat the entire day, and then there are other days where I have first breakfast, elevenses, luncheon, third breakfast, tea, dinner, soupsies, supper, night lunch, midnight snack and one-in-the-morning snack.” Anonymous.
These days, I eat less than I used to and frequently feel full for a good while after eating a meal. But I can still have those days where barely half an hour passes since eating and I’m shovelling something else into my gob. On those days I think the lightbulb in my fridge could well be on the verge of exploding from my opening the door so frequently. Snacks are the biggest challenge, I think, when you’re trying to cut out sugar and processed foods. Snacks can feel like such an important food item to always have available, they can be habitual, especially when you’re a mother and having food in your bag is as important as carrying around your purse and mobile. I had a message from my cousin recently asking advice on what sugar-free snacks she can eat herself (she is pregnant) and also give to her little boy. It is a minefield trying to navigate the sugar-laden rubbish filling the aisles of the supermarkets, especially since most of it claims to be healthy and a good option for kids.
Here are what I perceive to be the four main requirements that define a worthy snack…
- Quick and easy to grab.
- Minimal mess.
- Perhaps a treat – something to look forward to to break up the morning or afternoon along with a coffee or cup of tea.
So I thought, dear cousin, I’d write a post about it as it might help others who have the same question and would also provide you with a more thorough answer than I may have sent in a FB message.
Before I sling out a list of ideas I do just want to make a couple of important points.
- Try to work towards limiting snacking in general (for yourself, and also for your kids).
Somehow, over the years we have been given advice about eating little and often, having small portions at meal times and many, many snacks. Therefore we can believe that feeling a slight pang of hunger means we have left it far too long since having some sort of food item. Nutritionists these days are saying that actually our guts need a rest in between meals. Sarah Wilson recommends we eat like the French: large, filling, nutritiously dense meals that we take some time over eating, preferably seated at a table with diverting company. Then, NO SNACKING IN BETWEEN. This is not ultimately about discipline. If you eat a big meal of nutritionally dense, very low sugar food then you should be satisfied until just before your next meal. Now, what actually is the most nutritionally dense food? I don’t think you’ll believe it… Watercress!! I think most of us automatically assume carbs are the most filling element of our meal but the most nutritionally dense food group is vegetables. If your meal is mostly veg, a small amount of carbs, a smattering of meat and/or other protein, you’re good to go. Sugar is addictive and messes with your brain making you believe you’re hungry when you’re not. It’s hard to ever feel satisfied when your diet is high-sugar and you’re swimming against the tide if you’re trying to “be good”. The other benefit to this type of eating is that you take time over the meal, which is good for your gut and for your soul. You can connect with those around you or have some peace and quiet to just be with yourself and savour the meal.
I must say, kids are constantly on the move and seem to struggle to sit for a while at the table and often prefer to graze. This makes sense to me based on their physicality but if you’re encouraging them to eat well at meal times and present it as an important social time then that’s starting as you mean to go on. Obviously working and childcare can impact one’s capacity to do this.
If you’re pregnant and breastfeeding, nutritionally dense foods are even more important. Eat when you’re hungry and don’t fret about snacking, of course.
- Try not to change too much at once.
If you have a habit of eating a biscuit mid-afternoon with a cup of tea then it is actually quite a big feat to not only cut out the sugary treat that you enjoy but also cut out the habit. When I first changed my diet, my priority was to make some alternatives to the sweet treats I had been regularly eating. I attempted refined sugar-free cookies, biscuits, flapjacks, cakes, brownies, desserts, ice cream. Obviously still regularly eating anything sweet isn’t ideal but if I had tried to change too much too fast I would have failed and lost motivation. What’s your guilty pleasure? Try to make a healthier version and then wean yourself off the habit of eating it every day.
- Be careful of snack food items claiming to be healthy.
Naked bars, cereal bars, granola, fruit bars for kids – all these have lots of dried fruit in (or some form of sugar) and a handful of raisins has a whopping ten teaspoons of sugar in. I generally avoid giving my kids dried fruit as a snack because it’s not far off giving them haribo in terms of sugar content (though I know it is healthier than haribo in other ways). A lot of yoghurts that aren’t plain natural yoghurt will not only have added sugar but also additives, especially the kids ones with their fave tv character on the side.
So, what CAN you eat? Here goes…
- Rice cakes with nut butter/humous/mashed up avocado/cottage cheese.
- Make root veg crisps or kale crisps ( I do buy good quality plain salt or salt and vinegar crisps).
- Cheese and crackers.
- Crudités with humous/nut butter/melted cheese/on their own (repurpose glass jars and make a transportable snack by putting humous in the bottom of the jar and then put sticks of carrot/cucumber/celery in vertically, filling the jar. Use a wide mouthed one to enable you to double dip!)
- Sugar-free biscuits.
- Mini pastry-free quiches (fry some leek and bacon and chop up small, mix with six eggs in a jug then top up with milk to make a litre, pour into greased muffin tray, sprinkle top with cheese and bake for 15-20 mins and you have twelve quiches that you can freeze and heat from frozen in the microwave).
- Boiled eggs ( I tend to boil a few at a time if I’m having an egg for breakfast and then put the spares in the fridge for quick snacks or a transportable snack.
- Nuts and seeds (can flavour them with chilli or other spices and bake in oven to make them more interesting).
- Popcorn (again can vary flavour, I’ve made chocolate popcorn before that was really nice and once added cinnamon to plain salted flavour).
- A small mug of soup.
- Chicken legs.
- Fruit, but only one or two portions per day.
- A smoothie, green preferably!
- Sugar-free and crap-free chocolate.
- Savoury pastries (croissants and cheese straws aren’t too bad – make you’re own if you can but if not, pick your battles).
- A paleo bread (try Sarah Wilson’s) or Jamie Oliver’s protein bread.
- Roasted chickpeas, perhaps with flavour added.
- Toasted wholemeal pitta and humous.
- Natural yoghurt and fresh/frozen berries.
- Sugar-free energy balls (lots of recipes floating around but be wary of ones with dates in as they are packed full of sugar).
- Savoury muffins.
- Homemade sausage rolls.
- Homemade pancakes (omit sugar from recipe if there is some, add blueberries if you like).
- A glass of milk.
Got anymore ideas to add? Please comment!