Even if you eat balanced main meals, your hard work can mean nothing if you eat unhealthy snacks between them. And you probably know that… which is why you’re reading this post!
But I want you to know, that if you find yourself getting tripped up on snacks, it’s not completely your fault.
America is one of the world’s largest snacking nations. Cool, right? We LOVE our snacks and there’s really no escaping the unhealthy ones at all. Oh, and to make it even worse, some snacks are designed to get us hooked.
If it feels like the odds are stacked against you…. well, they are.
That doesn’t mean we can’t learn how to navigate through the tricky marketing, confusing labels and daily cravings to make it work.
Even though we live in a snack society, we have to address an important question.
Do we need to snack?
There are two sides to this debate, and I think Steve Kamb over at Nerd Fitness explains it perfectly. I seriously could not explain both sides of the “to snack, or not to snack” debate better than he does in his post about snacking and weight loss. Click here to read it on his site.
If you don’t want to hop over to his site, here’s what I took away from the article: snacking is not actually necessary and is a modern development to the American diet (meaning, it wasn’t always a thing, not even 40 years ago). If you ate three perfectly balanced meals a day, you wouldn’t need to snack.
Sometimes we feel like we need a snack because we have trained our bodies to want food at certain times after years and years of snacking.
BUT if you’re a snacker like me and look forward to it, there are ways to snack smart so you don’t ruin your hard work at the gym and at main meal time. And that’s what this post is all about.
I’m not about to tell you to drop snacking if you want to be healthy. I’m just here to tell you how to eat healthy snacks!
In this piece I’m going to break down how meal prep can support healthy snacking habits, how choosing the right snacks can help you eliminate your junk cravings and at the end of this post there’s a massive list of Workweek Lunch approved snack ideas — storebought and homemade.
Meal prep is an easy fix for mindless snacking.
By planning snacks ahead, you’re less likely to experience hunger/boredom pangs at 2 pm… and then go for a snack that turns into an entire meal at your desk.
I’ve been there. First I would start with something “healthy” like a Clif bar. Not satisfied, I’d go for Cheerios. Then I’d say “screw it” and take some candy from my boss’ desk.
Meal prep helps us avoid falling down the spiral of overeating at snack time.
How? You won’t go LOOKING for a snack when you have already brought one to work. It will be waiting for you in the fridge or on your desk. Secondly, you have the ability to plan the snack ahead so it’s healthy and balanced, not empty calories or full of sugar.
Even if you eat healthy main meals, if your snacks aren’t as balanced or wholesome, you’ll find maintaining your weight or losing weight more difficult.
Another reason meal prep is an easy fix? We are TERRIBLE at making decisions in the moment. When we leave our snack (and meal) choices up to chance, we usually choose something we’ll regret later. Even me.
Meal prep helps us avoid that. It’s better if we just don’t let ourselves rely on willpower (not reliable at all, as you know).
Not only does meal prepping snacks help us make better decisions, it can help us beat sugar cravings too.
How your snack strategy can eliminate sugar cravings:
Would you be surprised if I told you continuing to eat sugary snacks only makes your sugar cravings worse? Yeah, didn’t think so. Common sense, right? But sugar cravings are hard to beat and I don’t recommend just going cold turkey.
Instead, I suggest having a “snack strategy” in place to help you get rid of sugar cravings for good.
Here are five tips you can implement today to start getting in control of your cravings:
- Replace processed sugar-added snacks at work (basically anything that comes in a package) with whole foods (see ideas in the list below). Keep in mind: fruit is nature’s candy!
- Remove processed and sugar-added snacks from your home so you can’t reach for them at night. Replace them with whole foods (see ideas in the list below)
- Prep snacks when you do your weekly or bi-weekly meal prep so you don’t leave yourself hanging between meals.
- Plan the days you’re going to indulge in a sugary snack (not meal, and not at nighttime) instead of letting it happen spontaneously. This helps erase the urge to binge because you’re giving yourself permission to indulge (instead of treating it like a cheat).
- Be patient with yourself. If you “fall off” the no-sugar track, it’s okay. Just get back on.
At first, healthy snacking might feel like a drag. But I promise that after two weeks of eating whole foods instead of processed foods at snack time, the processed foods will taste terrible to you.
That’s exactly what happened to me when I finally started bringing snacks to work and stopped eating Famous Amos cookies every day.
I’ll never forget. After 14 days, I ate Famous Amos cookies and didn’t even finish them because I felt like I could taste the chemicals. No joke.
Do you think you can snack smart for 14 days? I KNOW you can. And I’m making it so much easier for you by giving you many healthy options!
Below is a full list of Workweek Lunch-approved snacks. Write down your favorite ideas and add them to your grocery list for your next grocery haul.
Easy-To-Grab whole foods
When comparing different snacks, nothing tops the nutritional value in whole foods like veggies, fruits, nuts and seeds. Just so we’re on the same page when I say whole foods I mean that the food is not processed. It comes as is.
Grabbing an apple or banana to take to work is just as easy as grabbing a protien bar. I try to get in fruit and veggies with every snack I eat. Here are easy examples and ideas:
- VEGGIES: Carrots, celery, bell peppers, lunchbox peppers, edamame
- FRUIT: Apples, bananas, plums, peaches, oranges, grapefruit, mango, berries, papaya
- NUTS & SEEDS: Almonds, cashews, peanuts, walnuts, pepitas, sunflower seeds
In the dairy/refrigerated section
If you’re vegetarian or flexitarian, there are many awesome high proteins, clean and low-sugar options in the dairy section.
Pro tip: when buying yogurt always get the plain varieties. It’s healthier to add some nuts, fresh fruit or a drop of honey than it is to eat the processed fruit in the flavored varieties.
- Cheese sticks
- Regular & Greek yogurt (plain, low sugar)
- Non-dairy yogurt (plain, low sugar)
- Any yogurt that doesn’t have a lot of sugar
- Cottage cheese (plain, low sugar)
- Hummus! (not dairy, but in the refrigerated section)
Here are my three favorite yogurt brands because they’re high in protein and low(ish) in sugar!
Pantry and packaged foods:
This is where a lot of us screw up. So many packaged foods (bars, cookies, crispy snacks, chips, etc) are packed with preservatives and other junk that makes weight loss a lot harder. This is why you rarely see packaged snacks in my meal preps. I just try to stay away from them in general!
That being said, when we’re on the go or in a rush, it’s good to know what snacks are healthier than others.
Here are my recommendations:
- PROTEIN BARS: Rx Bars, Go Macro bars, Larabars, Perfect Bar
- GRANOLA BARS: Unless you’re hiking or doing something very active, stay away from these. They’re loaded with sugar and have little nutritional value other than carbs.
- JERKY: Make sure to read the labels for sodium content. High sodium = not a great feeling after eating
- NUT BUTTERS: I honestly just look for cheap brands with low sugar and not a lot of ingredients. Jif natural is good for me. I don’t want to spend $11 on a jar of almond butter.
- POPCORN: good light snack idea, but watch out for extra ingredients and preservatives. Also portion it out, because popcorn you can just keep eating until you’re stuffed!
- CHIPS: Chips don’t do much protein-wise, but some brands with clean ingredients (like Siete Foods and Garden of Eatin’) are good. Just remember — portions matter! Pair chips with hummus, peanut butter or avocado to get some nutrients in there.
- COOKIES: Don’t buy these at the store! Make them at home instead so they’ll be much cleaner and you have more control over ingredients.
- TRAIL MIX: Best to avoid, but if you have to go for it, try to get an unsalted variety with no chocolate chips or M&Ms.
- DRINKS: Drinks can totally count as calories, so watch out. Most flavored, cold brew, kombucha, ice teas and protein drinks are packed with other preservatives, sugars and unnecessary stuff. I drink the lowest sugar kombucha I can find 2x a week as a snack during meal prep and stay away from the rest.
Nothing beats snacks you make at home:
A little extra time spent on prep day to take care of snacks can go a long, long way when it comes to weight loss. Below I’m linking out to recipes on other bloggers sites for these snacks so you can recreate them at home on prep day!
- ENERGY BITES: Fig bliss balls, coconut fat balls, cookie dough balls, peanut butter balls
- HOMEMADE GRANOLA: I love this recipe, super simple
- HOMEMADE GRANOLA BARS: this one is my favorite, just 5 ingredients
- VEGGIE ROLLUPS: vegan, vegetarian, meat
- HOMEMADE CHIPS: plantains, zucchini, parsnip, carrot, potato, sweet potato
- Snack combo: crackers and avocado
- Snack combo: crackers & peanut butter
- Snack combo: crackers & hummus
- Snack combo: crackers & cheese
- Snack combo: fruit or veggies & nuts
- Snack combo: raw veggies & hummus
- Snack combo: chips & salsa (low sugar)t
- Snack-sized overnight oats (use this recipe, but make just half of it)
- Snack-sized protein shake or fruit smoothie (like this)
- Hardboiled eggs
- Apple slices & peanut butter sandwiches
- Sliced cucumber with cream cheese on sliced whole wheat pita bread
Healthy snacking is easy when you have quick options (and plan in advance).
Knowing what your options are is the key to healthy snacking. Most of the time, we get “bored” with our snacks, which leads to terrible choices. Or we don’t plan ahead, which also leads to terrible choices.
Personally, I need a pick-me-up at 2 pm at work. While I used to go for the cookies, a plain apple with some almonds is now something I look forward to. Plus, I can feel good about the natural sugar instead of chemicals and preservatives.
Yes, adding snacks to your meal prep routine will make the process take longer. That’s why I always go for whole fruit and veggies; there’s simply nothing to do other than chop ’em up and put them in a bag or container. Done.
If you have any specific questions about snacks and snacking in general, reach out directly: firstname.lastname@example.org.