Planning and preparing a meal can be a daunting task for anyone. When we don’t have the time or ingredients for preparing an elaborate meal, having a thoughtfully selected snack can help fill in the nutritional gaps and leave us feeling full and satisfied. The key to snacking and simultaneously filling in our nutritional gaps is to consume the essential nutrients that our bodies need, even when snacking. Snacking is a key tool in weight management and overall health. The important aspect of using snacking as a tool rather than a hindrance is selecting nutritious foods and snacking mindfully.
Mindfulness is the practice of considering our individual thoughts, actions and motivations as they’re happening. When applied to eating and snacking, this translates into being aware of our nutritional needs and how we can best meet them conscientiously. To start this process, we need to remember a few key principles:
PLAN YOUR SNACKS
Take time to consider what you’ll eat before you’re in the midst of eating. Think about how you’re feeling at that moment. If you’re experiencing hunger, proceed. If it’s any other sensation driving you to eat, stop what you’re doing and take a moment to dwell on your motivations for snacking in that moment.
CHEW YOUR FOOD
Digestion begins in the mouth. Mechanical digestion is an important step in the bodu’s digestive dance. The more you chew your food, the more you’re helping your digestive system and the little guys inside your gut do their jobs; chemically digesting your food.
Our bodies use water in large quantities for their most important functions. Drinking water before, during and after eating can help provide more accurate sensations of satiety, or feeling full.
RECOGNIZE YOUR LEVEL OF SATIETY
It can take up to 20 minutes for feelings of fullness to set in. Take your time while eating to accurately gauge when enough is enough. “Enough” is not indicated by feelings of fullness; it’s when we no longer feel physical sensations of hunger. This will vary based on activity level, basal metabolic rate, and typical caloric intake. Part of being mindful is considering these individual factors for yourself and being aware of and being mindfully involved in your nutritional decisions.
TURN OFF TECH
Devices are devised to distract with dynamic diversions. It’s as simple as that. It’s easy to eat more than intended, less than intended, or not at all when you’re not paying attention and focused on your tech rather than sustenance. Staring at all of our newfangled devices means we’re spending less time looking at what we’re eating and with whom we’re eating. Take time to set devices aside and mindfully participate in your body’s ingestion and digestion processes.
Technology isn’t our only distraction from our thoughts when eating. Be mindfulof distractions that keep you focused on things other than what you’re eating.
SHARPEN YOUR SENSES
Let your senses be your guide. Pay attention to the smell, texture and taste of your food. Consider the nutritional value of your food and how it fits your nutritional needs. Every human experience is unique; take the time to become aware of how you experience food.
BRING ONLY THE AMOUNT YOU PLAN TO EAT
Put snacks into portioned containers. Become more mindful of how much you’re consuming with some extra effort and investment in reusable containers. Anything with a lid that isn’t absorbent and is recyclable can be re-used for snack containers.
No matter what you’re craving, there are equally as satisfying healthful options without the adverse effects experienced from mindless snacking. Munching is well within your rights and is essential to preventing long-term return to previous, undesired habits. Satisfy your urges by creating a list of foods that will both satisfy your nutritional needs and your cravings. You deserve good things; that includes good food. Choose one a modest serving of a special treat and plan to eat it later in the day after your other, perhaps less crave-worthy, meals. It gives you something to look forward to as well as a continued path to mindful eating.
READ FOOD LABELS
Packaged food with ingredients that you can read and understand are usually a safer bet than the ones with ingredients that don’t suggest a visual image of any particular food group. However, even the clearest labels may use synonyms or variations of unwanted ingredients, so be mindful of selecting options with the simplest ingredients.
Whatever you’re snacking on, snack in moderation. Some things can be eaten in larger quantities than others. The key is to focus on your nutritional needs and whether the things you’re eating, especially those that you’re eating in large quantities, are meeting those needs in addition to some of your desires. The more varied your diet, the closer you are to determining your body’s optimized input and output, in terms of food to energy processing.
Here’re some snacks that can satisfy any craving that may arise, and happen to fit a variety of dietary needs:
When you’re in the mood for something savory:
Roasted seaweed: Initially, these thin, green strips of translucent seaweed may be visually off-putting. But once you place a sliver on your tongue, it melts in your mouth and you’re swept into the current of an oceanic sensory experience. Seaweed is umami, savory, in a way that is distinctly unique to these edible algae we know as “seaweed.” Without being what we typically consider “seafood,” it must be experienced first-hand to truly appreciate it. As an added bonus, seaweed is a good sourceof Vitamin C, an essential antioxidant. At the Co-op GimMe Organic Roasted Seaweed Snacks Teriyaki flavor are my go-to, but there are tons of varieties, including wasabi and sesame flavored options.
Hummus: Hummus is a deliciously creamy and savory treat that is both high-protein and high in the type of fats that are heart-healthy. The primary ingredient in hummus, chickpeas, are a good source of fiber. If mindfully selected, the ingredients should be as simple as chickpeas, tahini, and olive oil. If you’re feeling adventurous, try hummus flavored with garlic, roasted red bell pepper, and combinations of other veggies, herbs, and spices. You can make your own hummus using the recipe below or try my absolute favorite hummus ever: Banzo’s Hummus. Banzo is a local Madison company where they hand-make their sensational hummus with simple ingredients. This makes a great sugar-free option and provides some of the essential components of our diets that keep us healthy and satisfied.
Adapted from The Best Recipes in the World by Mark Bittman
2 c. drained well-cooked or canned chickpeas, liquid reserved
1/2 c. tahini (sesame paste), optional, with some of its oil
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil, plus oil for drizzling
3 cloves raw, peeled garlic, or 5 cloves roasted garlic (recipe below)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper 20
1 Tbs. ground cumin, curry, or paprika, or to taste, plus a sprinkling for garnish
Juice of 1-2 lemons, plus more as needed
Chopped fresh parsley leaves or mint for garnish
Directions: Put everything except the parsley in a food processor and begin to process; add the chickpea liquid or water as needed to allow the machine to produce a smooth puree. Taste and adjust the seasoning (adding more lemon juice can kick up the flavor as well). Serve, drizzled with the olive oil and sprinkled with a bit more of the spice combination of your choosing and some parsley or mint. Makes 8+ servings.
Adapted from Authentic Kicked- Up Syrian Hummus by Mary
5 cloves whole raw garlic with paper skin intact
1-2 Tbs. olive oil
Directions: Pre-heat oven to 450°F. Place 5 cloves whole raw garlic with paper skin intact in the center of a large square of aluminum foil. Drizzle with olive oil. Fold aluminum foil into a packet. Roast in foil packet until soft and golden brown, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Once slightly cooled, squeeze the garlic out of peels.
Carrots are a great option for dipping into hummus or any other dip variety. They’re minimally processed and contain high amounts of beta-carotene, the antioxidant responsible for Vitamin A production during digestion. For a colorful snack packed with vitamins and minerals, try Cal- Organics’ Organic rainbow baby carrots. They’re great for taking with you on the go and provide a dose of subtle sweetness along with a vegetable serving. They’re cut and peeled and washed and ready to eat, which makes for a quick snack option with no prep required.
Sweet bell peppers are also a good option for hummus dipping, minimally processed and high in Vitamin C as well. Wash them and slice them into slivers ahead of time and they also make a great on-the-go snack, plus another great option for a vegetable serving. Aim for a variety of colors; bell peppers come in a wide array: red, orange, yellow, green, and even purple! For some palates, there is no difference in flavor between the different color varieties; for others, there’s a world of difference. Try them all and discover which are your favorites.
Sugar snap peas are full of Vitamin A, C, K, manganese, and potassium. They’re a high-impact snack that work well on the go, alone or used as a vessel for dip, like hummus.
Celery makes a great vessel for hummus, peanut butter and tons of other sweet and savory combinations. It’s high in Vitamin C as well as Vitamin A, which is important for vision, immune system, and heart functions. You can buy celery in bulk at the Co-op; meaning you can get just the amount you need and avoid wasted produce that may otherwise spoil. Try a washed and scrubbed stalk dipped in hummus or slathered in a nut butte or sunflower seed butter. In the co-op’s bulk department, you’ll find raisins bursting with flavor: flame raisins, which pair very well sprinkled on top of celery stalks and mounds of nut butter or sunflower seed butter, a classic “ants on a log” rendition, with an ever-important vegetable serving.
NUTS & SEEDS
Nuts and seeds are the original fast food. If you don’t have a tree nut or peanut allergy, they are an excellent source of protein and are pre-packaged to go, by nature. When it comes to a savory snack with a valuable bang for your buck, these little delights take the cake.
Cashews are mild and creamy and work well in cooked dishes as well as on their own as a protein boost and a great natural source of iron. Try the raw, no-salt-added cashews in the Co-op’s Bulk department in whatever amount you want. The Cajun and Curry Cashew varieties are a great treat, if sodium isn’t of concern for your diet.
Macadamia are another great nut/ seed variety that lend a smooth and mild flavor profile to any dish, or can be enjoyed alone. They too are high in essential (required for proper biological function) vitamins, and minerals, including; Vitamin B1, Vitamin B6, and Manganese. Enjoy a pre-portioned serving while on the go and see what a difference they make when you’re in a pinch. The Royal Hawaiian Orchards Sea Salt Macadamia Nuts or Willy Pack Macadamia Nuts are a great option for sourcing macadamias that are minimally processed and devoid of the common fillers and preservatives used by some companies to cut costs.
Sunflower seeds make a great inexpensive option for rushed snack times and they are chock full of fiber, Vitamin E, Vitamin B1, protein and iron. Vitamin E provides “distinct antioxidant activity… which protect cells from the damaging effects of free radicals. [Free radicals] might contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease and cancer.” Scientists are working to fully understand the nature of free radicals, so have some sunflower seeds in the meantime, just to be on the safe side. Sunflower seeds also provide benefits through essential amino acids that aid in the production of serotonin and melatonin, the bodies mood and sleep regulators. There are tons of varieties of sunflower seeds out there, so be sure to check sodium and additive content if purchasing anything other plain seeds. You should always check first with your healthcare provider before adding any potential food allergen triggers to your diet. Fortunately, for some people with tree-nut or peanut allergies, they may be an alternative snack option to tree nut and peanut butters.
Trail mix, typically enjoyed on the hiking trail, is meant to serve the purpose of providing hungry hikers nutritionally dense calories while on the go. It can be a mixture of your own making or a pre-packaged variety. The mixture can contain any ratio of nuts, seeds, dried fruit, chocolate chips, or really any number of shelf-stable additions. Trail mix is a custom experience. The co-op offers a huge variety of trail mix with different optional additions. The Co-op’s Student Trail Mix is my go-to because it’s full of the vitamins and minerals previously praised, plus it gives me the carbs and protein combo I need to power through a long school or work day. Try a small amount of the bulk mixes or use your preferences to create your own mixed masterpiece. Happy trails and good snacking!
String cheese makes a goodoption for those on the go, with its high calcium and protein content. Cesar’s String Cheese is by far the best string cheese I have ever had. It’s salty and tangy, with just the right amount of chewiness. It’s made in the traditional hand-stretched Oaxacan style, so expect serious stringiness with this string cheese.
When you’re in the mood for something sweet:
Whole fruit is one of the best choices that you can make for yourself when it comes to selecting a snack. Citrus fruits are a great addition to any dietary repertoire for their abundance of Vitamin C and their naturally sweet flavor profiles. Satsumas and mandarins are little balls of bright, juicy citrus flavor that pair well with cottage cheese or alone as a perfectly portioned travel snack. If you’re interested in a bigger snack, try a grapefruit, rich in fiber, Vitamin A, and Vitamin C. Conversely, if you’re looking for a tiny snack and you’re in a big rush, kumquats are your best option. They’re about the size of a quarter and look like miniature oranges but are eaten whole, skin and all. The skin lends a slightly sweet and bitter note to the very tart juicy inner flesh. If you’ve never had a kumquat, they’re worth trying just for the experience of the diversity that citrus fruits have to offer. There’s something for everyone in this fruit family.
Berries are a quick snack staple. Their varieties of colors and flavors are impressive and are biologically beneficial as well. Antioxidants, vitamin C, and iron abound. Blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries and even aronia berries are a great source of nutrition, so enjoy them at your leisure! Eat them alone or paired with yogurt, cereal, or even sparingly as a special treat with Sassy Cow Whipped Cream or So Delicious Non-Dairy Whipped Coconut Topping.
Apples are obvious choices for a snack, but don’t let the standard com21 mercialized Red Delicious convince you that apples are all one note. For a tiny snack, try crabapples, silver dollar-sized apples that fit well into any snack bag. For an average-sized tart, sweet and crisp apple try Honeycrisp, Pink Lady, or Fuji. Apples are great enjoyed whole, with nut butters, as an addition to oats or baked. Baked apples are de-cored without going completely through to the other side of the apple and creating a well in the center. You can then sprinkle the inside of the well with cinnamon, sugar, and any other spices of your choosing. Bake at 350ºF and enjoy when cooled. This can also be made in the microwave, on high for 3-4 minutes, with the prepped apple in a covered casserole dish. A baked apple on a cold winter morning makes for a quick, simple and nutritious snack to start your day off mindfully.
Grapes—red or green, take your pick—are a fast-fruit snack high in fruit sugars that act as a quick pick-me-up for on-the-go activity. Try them frozen for a unique texture experience.
Bananas are a quick and simple snack packed with Vitamin C. Ripe bananas even contain dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, which are neurotransmitters related to mood, memory, pleasure, and vigilance.Those benefits alone are enough to make bananas a worthy snack. When you add those benefits to the benefits you can get from pairing some foods with bananas, you get even more bang for your buck. You can add them to cereal, you can turn them into banana chips with a dehydrator or oven, you can cook them in a pudding or enjoy them frozen and mashed like ice cream; the possibilities are limitless, but some options are better than others. Be mindful of your consumption and enjoy the health benefits that come with this delicious snack.
For a quick fix and nutritionally dense snack, try a banana with Yumbutter Nut Butter. Yumbutter is a local Madison nut butter company that specializes in artisanal nut butters and offers many flavors in a to-go squeeze pouch. The pouches are especially great for taking to work, school, or out to play, as they transport easily and can be squeezed on top of a peeled banana with ease and without tools or prep. The cashew butter squeeze pouch is a star in the line-up, but they also offer an almond butter, sunflower seed butter, and classic peanut butter variety. Peanut butter is naturally high in vitamin C, a good source of iron, and is rich in monounsaturated fats, which help reduce the risk of heart disease. Add being a “good source of vitamins B3 and E, magnesium, folate, and dietary fiber” to the list of peanuts’ benefits and you’ve got yourself an inexpensive multi-purpose snack. Be sure to look out for Yumbutter’s seasonal flavors; since they’re limited edition offerings, they fly off the shelves!
If you find yourself with an abundance of fruit and no way to consume it in a reasonable amount of time, try (peeling if needed) cutting them into quarters, blending until mostly smooth, spreading on a non-stick cookie sheet and cooking it at your oven’s lowest temperature setting (while still being turned on) for a few hours, checking it intermittently. It’s ready when you poke it and it no longer separates to reveal the sheet underneath, or it’s firm but pliable. This will leave you with the sweet gooeyness of homemade fruit leather—thin sheets of blended fruit that contain all the goodness of the fruit with an even more portable package. Add sugar and spices to your personal fruit blend, as you see fit.
Dehydrated fruit is a good option for a sweet treat to go and can be enjoyed sparingly. Try the Co-op’s sliced mango in the Willy Pack cooler. They’re tangy and tart but sweet and chewy, a flavor profile that most can’t resist. While you’re at it, check out the apple slices, dried pineapple, dried apricots, or dried bananas for equally tantalizing options. These options have beneficial health offerings and are easy to grab when running low on time. Some are, however, pre-sweetened, so enjoy them in moderation for the sake of your daily sugar intake. When it comes to sugar intake, don’t spend it all in one place.
Dehydrated fruit lends itself well to being added to oatmeal, a hearty and filling breakfast staple. You can take it with you anywhere if you prepare overnight oats. Place a 1:1 combination of rolled oats with milk, water, or a milk alternative in a mason jar. Stir the combination to ensure oats are saturated and add toppings of your choosing. Cover with a lid and let it sit in the fridge for at least six hours or overnight. Enjoy your Overnight Oats in the morning, prepared and ready to mindfully start your day.
Now that we’ve explored the abundance of options for snacking mindfully, with your body’s well-being in mind, enjoy these snacks and treats knowing that you’re benefiting your body and your mind. Understanding how your dietary choices affect you is an essential component in optimizing your health and therefor eyour future. Remember the tips and snacks when you’re in a bind at work or school and are preparing to provide your body with nourishment; you are now equipped to mindfully enjoy your nourishment. Bon appétit!