Making Snacks Your Business

February 11, 2014 in Foodland, Nutrition, Weight Management by Joyce Bunderson

Snacks are big business. Ultimately, this post is about making them your business. Planning, learning and thinking ahead, may help arm you in the new shift in attitude about snacking; supporting the development of a snacking attitude becoming a behavior that includes snacking as a way to improve your own healthy eating habits. At the end of the day, whether we consume our food as snacks or as meals, the fact remains that the calories and nutrients are what nourishes us.

The NPD Group, a consumer trends and market research company, found a link between healthier eating behaviors and more frequent snacking. NPD found 36% more snack meals a year in the healthiest diets than the average consumer (see their Snacking in America, report).

Another company that does powerful market and shopper information and predictive analysis, has a developed a different perspective on snacking. IRi has observed the phenomenon of serial snacking. They report in their latest Times & Trends report that their research finds 21% of Americans have chosen serial snacking instead of regular meals. IRi has named those who ‘serial snack’ instead of eating meals opportunist eaters. Opportunist eaters – grab food and drink throughout the day as the opportunity arises, with little consideration as to whether they are eating a meal or a snack; essentially choosing convenience as top priority. Both healthy styles and those not at all considering health are in this group. This observation makes snacking a very important issue to address. IRi says that there are 66 million opportunist eaters; so hopefully, they can be saved some heartache with a little information.

Both reports offer a huge pile of fodder for thought. It’s challenging for the nutritionist/dietitian to keep up with societal changes.  In order to offer advice and help people before they’re entrenched in a new habit; our goal is to help people ‘see it coming;’ that is, before they have both malnutrition; and paradoxically, weigh 50 pounds more than before the bad form of snacking habit started.   Change is one thing we can count on. An important bottom line with these snack and opportunist eating issues is that the calories count and the lack of nutrients matter too. So whether we eat three squares or snack all day, our body is still counting on the nutrients in the food to keep us healthy and to support a healthy weight.

You would think that an older couple would be immune to the need for on-the-go eating, but even Vic and I periodically are caught in a pinch, looking for something healthy to eat for a meal/mini meal. On-the-go eating is breaking the daily diet of many into four or five “mini meals.” We are usually three squares and a snack or two style eaters, but on-the-go eating certainly touches our lives. Part of the key for us has been planning ahead to have certain types of foods on hand and, of course, knowing what works and what doesn’t.

The food processors are extraordinarily interested in this phenomenon. The idea of a meal is becoming so blurred according to the Times & Trends report that the food processors and marketers are competing for “share of stomach”.  They make the point that traditional snack foods such as yogurt and cheese sticks are eaten as meals and burgers and pizza are eaten as snacks. Only 14% of the American population eat ‘three squares’ and no snacks; and 38% eat 3 squares and several snacks. Sometimes I feel that many in the public are like innocent little lambs, and the wolves are waiting in packages, fast food restaurants and around each corner.  Now before you categorize me as overly worried and completely paranoid, let me just be sure that you know what may be in the snack basket that’s being offered to innocent Red Riding Hood.

Being Aware:

  • Smoothie shops offer those delicious cold fruit blends. What could be more healthy that fruit? Some smoothies have 80 grams of sugar or more. The American Heart Association recommends that women keep their sugar intake under 100 calories (24 grams; 6 teaspoons) and men no more than 150 calories (36 grams (9 teaspoons).  So one of the sugary smoothies can deliver more than double the daily amount of sugar for even a man. Worse still, some are made with ‘fruit concentrates’ – no fresh fruit is involved. Ask if ice cream or sorbet is added to your smoothie.  This is not the same smoothie that you make at home by adding fruit, nonfat milk or yogurt; and giving it a whirl.
  • Muffins sound so healthy. Try to learn if your muffin is made with whole grains. Often muffins are nothing more than cupcakes – loaded with sugar and fat; sometimes spices are added to make them appear more like a breakfast item. In the majority of states, trans fats/hydrogenated oils can be in your purchased muffin to add to the problem. One fix is to make your muffins at home, freeze the extras and then take them with you. Some muffins contain as many as 500 calories each. Beware!
  • Granola is a minefield. It started out as a healthy snack, but frequently now is comes loaded with sugars and fats. Compare the calories, fat and sugar of your granola with a wholegrain cereal, topped with some berries or sliced banana. The cereal and fruit is an easy way to save calories and reduce fat and sugar. If you love granola sprinkled on your yogurt, you may want to consider making it yourself; that way, you control the amount of sugar and type and amount of fat.
  • Trail mix is often held in the position of the epitome of health food. Sometimes it even has banana chips. Bananas are soft. Banana chips become hard because they are deep-fried. Yikes! One ounce can have 145 calories, 9 grams of fat, and 8 grams saturated. Remember there’s no fat in bananas. Another common ingredient in trail mix is yogurt-covered raisins. Do yourself a favor, pick up a package of yogurt-covered raisins; read the ingredient list. When you add a pile of sugar and wax to a dot of yogurt it turns into something that is hard. Don’t think that this is the same as a nice serving of yogurt and fresh fruit. When you cover peanuts and raisins with chocolate, I advice you to consider it candy; the same goes for yogurt-covered raisins or peanuts. Sometimes candy is good, but just be sure that was your goal. Consider measuring out the amount of trail mix you want to eat, to keep yourself from repeatedly reaching into a large bag of trail mix and ending up with a very high calorie snack.
  • Sweeten your own Greek Yogurt and reduce the risk of taking 30-plus grams of sugar in a 6-ounce cup of prepared yogurt.
  • Frozen yogurt is another trap. The frozen yogurt shops don’t always take a nice high protein, high calcium yogurt and freeze it. First they may add a load of sugar. Find out what the shop is adding to your yogurt.
  • Fiber bars, protein bars and energy bars can frequently qualify to be called candy bars. Reading the label is key. The first ingredient is what is most prevalent in the bar. Certainly, if the food processor uses 5 different forms of sugar, sugar won’t be first on the label. By now you probably know this trick; divide the sugar into invert sugar, brown sugar, honey, sugar, and corn syrup. That way some people may buy the ‘health food’ part of a health bar. If they want to tout fiber, they will probably load it with some low-cost fiber additive such as inulin. If energy is what you’re after, have a little caution.  Sugar is pure energy with no nutrients. Be sure to check out the number of servings in your candy bar. You may be surprised to learn that it is three servings of mostly sugar.

Snack Favorites to consider:

  • Roasted nuts, peanuts, dried edamame – this is the top of my list because they are loaded with fiber, heart-healthy fats, and a huge supply of phytonutrients. Put them in a little nut cup to avoid over-eating; then put the big container away. You can dish up other items using this same technique – try it with olives.
  • Hummus and veggies, or fruit
  • Laughing Cow makes light Swiss wedges and Light Mini BabyBels, perfect for portion control. Very nice with fruit or a few whole grain crackers.
  • Dried cherries and cranberries have some added sugar, but make a nice addition to a mix with nuts and seeds. If you don’t want any added sugar, but you do want the sweetness choose raisins, prunes, and/or dates.
  • Grape or cherry tomatoes are a nice option for a snack.
  • Fresh edamame is a good snack for home or cold pack.
  • Leftover steamed vegetables are sometimes my snack.
  • Roasted seaweed has only 16 calories per pack.
  • Hard-boiled eggs are nice to have on hand. Since I bought an egg cooker years ago, hard-boiled eggs became a stock item in my fridge. I wish I had purchased one when my children were young. With the egg cooker, they always peel and are always cooked just right.
  • Grapes, eaten fresh or frozen are an enjoyable way to add variety to snacking.
  • Popped corn can offer whole grain goodness to your snack life. If you’re choosing microwave, compare the brands and fat. Keep looking! You will find some 94% fat-free varieties, but popcorn often comes with saturated with fat, trans fat, and sugar. Also, you’ll want to watch out for trans fat and hydrogenated oils.
  • Don’t forget raw fruit and vegetables as snacks.  Slicing them up takes a few minutes and makes them more snack-friendly. Consider yogurt and nut butter dips to go with them.
  • Be careful with jerky, especially if you’re watching your salt/sodium intake.
  • Whole grain crackers are a lovely addition, but read the nutrition label and count them out.
  • Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and pistachios with shells are good if you’re looking to slow down your intake. They are super healthy for you, but again, you’ll want to pre-measure to keep your total calories down.
  • A couple sips of buttermilk is one of my quick snacks; I enjoy the tart saltiness of buttermilk. If you don’t enjoy buttermilk, nonfat milk and some whole grain crackers, may be one of your quick snacks.

I want to share with you that I’ve been caught by not seeing through tricky package labels. I’ve had the experience of not slowing down to read labels and have been sorely disappointed when I got my product home. We must stay constantly diligent in keeping our eyes wide open – the food processors are counting on our blinking. If we don’t keep our eyes wide open, we may end up with food in our basket, and eventually our mouth that we never intended to eat. If snacking is increasingly growing in your life, you’ll probably want to assess how it’s impacting your intake of nourishing foods and if your calorie intake is staying stable and not increasing because of it. Keep your eyes open – they want a share of your stomach.