The Formula for Healthy Snacking

by Stephanie Margolis, R.D.

There may be a perfect storm brewing in your house. Remote learning. Kids buzzing through video conferences. Stay-at-home orders. All of it can feel like… a lot. While I hope you are finding some small joys in this time of a slower life, you may also be finding your way to the kitchen more. Luckily there are some easy strategies you can use to address your quarantine questions.

How Do I Stop All The Snacking?

Whether it’s you or the kids, when you’re away from your normal routine it seems like mealtimes are simply suggestions. We seem to struggle with this in our family the first few weeks of summer as well, so here are some tried and true ways to make sure you are fueling you and your kids healthfully.

  • You don’t have to stop. That’s right, the goal isn’t to cut yourself off completely. Snacking can be helpful to avoid getting overly hungry before your next meal. However, if you find that things are getting out of control, for you or your kids, set a few parameters. Setting regular snack times and communicating those to everyone in the family. For example, “we will have one snack at 10 am today, lunch at 12, and another snack after nap time.” This helps to set an expectation and give you talking points when they try to sneak in the pantry for another round. Make it a teaching moment by making it visual with a written schedule or marking the time on the clock.
    • Special note for kids: The advice above rings true to both adults and kids but when it comes to providing snacks for your kids consider creating a snack bin. Place all the snacks YOU feel good about offering and THEY get to choose. This allows them control over their choices (with parameters) and right now they may be feeling like they can’t control anything.
  • Drink lots of water. If you’ve been sitting at the computer working away and find yourself thinking of food, take a moment to pause and decide if this is head hunger or real hunger. Is your brain just telling you those chips are what you need or is your stomach growling and your body needs fuel? If you aren’t sure, allow yourself only raw fruits and veggies. If you’re really hungry then you’ll eat anything, but if you decide you’re not that excited about those carrot then it’s likely you were just head hungry. This also works for kids, when our kids complain they are “staaarrrrving” and they’ve just had a meal or snack they are offered fresh produce.
  • Eat everything on a plate and away from a screen. When you grab foods straight from the bag or eat as you scroll, you are more likely to over-eat. This can be a hard habit to break so put some barriers in place. First, break those Costco-sized bags into smaller containers or bags. Ideally you can put them into snack bags creating individual servings, but it also works in smaller clear containers. Either tactic gives you the visual of how much you’ve eaten. This same philosophy applies to eating everything off a plate, your brain sees what you are eating and helps you connect that food with your fullness.
  • Know your weaknesses. You know those foods you just can’t stop. They feel like a treat in the moment, but you always overdo it on them. This is a time to look at those foods and either hide them or don’t buy them. Your brain is consumed with so many thoughts right now and it takes energy. Another thing that takes energy is will-power so make it a little easier on yourself and keep those yummy things out of sight and out of mind.


So, I’ve Also Developed This New Cooking (or just recipe collecting) Hobby…

Fantastic! It’s great to spend some of the free time you’re finding on a hobby you enjoy. Find those recipes, print them off, and make them (something I’m even guilty of not doing). Then do the next thing and decide if it’s something you plan to eat immediately or if you should take the opportunity to make some freezer treats. For example, if your hobby involves baking, these goods freeze exceptionally well. Keep what you will eat in the next 1-2 days, then place the rest in a freezer-safe bag. This is a great way to spread out the treats and allows you to defrost just one or two at a time.

When you are grabbing items for these new recipes it is important to shop smart. In the face of the coronavirus pandemic you want to be efficient with your grocery trip. Here are a few tips:

  • Make a list: include the ingredients you need but also don’t forget those staples. It’s best to jot it down while you’re in your kitchen with eyes on your food. You can even knock out some spelling practice and have your kiddo write the list.
  • Head to the store and stick to the list: During the rush to stock up I heard many anecdotes about people seeing what others were buying, grabbing the, for themselves, only to get home and realize they will NEVER eat that amount of black beans (although, we do have some great recipes using black beans in our Recipe Box). Get in, focus, buy things on your list, and get out.
  • Involve your kids: You’ve heard this before but involving your kids in any step of the process will make it more likely they will try the new food. Allow them to search for recipes, watch a kids’ cooking show for ideas, or help you cook the food. Don’t even worry about making it educational, just enjoy the time you’ve been given during this time.


This Feels Like A lot and I’m Stressed

I feel ya! It’s normal to feel stressed and however you feel at this moment is absolutely okay. If you are starting to feel the impact of stress on your body, it’s likely because those stress hormones are creating inflammation in your body. This can take a toll in the short term and long term. In the short-term we worry about lowering our immune system’s ability to fight off infection. Instead of dwelling on that thought let’s focus on how we can fight inflammation with food. Of course, the first step is to lower the immediate stress with some meditation or self-care. Once you’ve taken that step think about how you are fueling your body. We’ve provided a lot of anti-inflammatory information over the past few months so take sometimes to read those. However, if you need the info immediately just remember whole, unprocessed foods. You’ve got this! 


Gotcha, Where Do I Start?

Make those goals small. Even smaller. Okay, mini! Right now, your focus can be on the smallest things that when you do them feel almost easy. Start with the easiest thing you’ve read here and start it tomorrow. Make the list, mark the clock, find a bin. Whatever it is do it. Once you do that, high-five! Now next mini goal… and so on. This is not the time for major life changes, focus on your family and your well-being. Move your body and enjoy some sunshine.




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