If you’re like most, you spend a good chunk of your eating hours away from home, at work, or at school, which can be a disaster for your diet, especially when 3 PM rolls around, and you find yourself famished, staring at the vending machine stocked with high-calorie sodas, chips and candy bars. A 20-ounce bottle of regular soda tips the sugar meter with more than 16 teaspoons of nutrient-empty sugar, an all-to-quick 250 calories, and an imprudent shock to the system. When you’re unprepared it’s all too easy to succumb to a snack-attack. You’re most vulnerable during the mid-afternoon, so make it a habit to stock healthy ammunition—snacks! Invest in a portable cooler to hold a few cups of yogurt and some fresh fruit for you to keep on hand at work if you don’t have access to a refrigerator.
: I advocate snacking as a smart strategy for people trying to control their weight. It may seem counter-intuitive, but studies show that eating smaller meals more frequently can actually help you lose weight. Instead of eating three “square” meals, eating smaller, mini-meals helps you maintain energy throughout the day and stay motivated to choose healthy foods. Here are some of my favorite snacks, each 100 – 200 calories:
- Cereal: One cup of mini shredded wheat or favorite non-sugary cereal with a cup of nonfat milk, yogurt, or soy yogurt makes a great office snack. Hot oatmeal in convenient single servings can be microwaved in your office kitchen.
- Cheese: Low-fat varieties: read the label, the first ingredient should be skim milk. One ounce of Jarlesberg or other low-fat cheese with a piece of fruit is an ideal blend of protein, carbs and a little fat. Enjoy a half-cup of nonfat or 1% cottage cheese mixed with salad herbs or black pepper for added flavor.
- Dips & Dippers: A quarter-cup of avocado dip (guacamole), chickpea dip (hummus), or tomato salsa, made with nonfat mayonnaise or a little olive oil instead: all are perfect dips for cut-up raw veggies and/or fruit.
- Fruit: Whole fruit including berries, melon, apples, oranges, and grapefruit have the most fiber and fewest grams of carbohydrate per serving; great with 4 ounces of nonfat yogurt, an ounce of low-fat cheese, or a handful (20) of almonds. Busy? Buy pre-washed and cut melon.
- Mini Pita Pizza: Top half of a whole-wheat mini pita with 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce, an ounce of low-fat mozzarella cheese, and oregano to taste. Broil in a toaster oven or microwave briefly until cheese melts.
- Nuts: An ideal combination of unsaturated fat, protein, and carbohydrates, nuts are portable and nutritious. Buy dry roasted (no oil added) unsalted nuts, peanuts in the shell, and eat a “handful,” about 200 calories, depending on the variety—check our www.caloriecounter.com for nutrition comparisons.
- Popcorn: Air-popped popcorn is your best bet; add a quick spray of olive oil and a tablespoon of Parmesan cheese. Alternatively, 100-calorie “lite” microwave popcorn: since many contain hydrogenated oils (the worst kind) read ingredient labels and buy carefully.
- Trail Mix: Mix a small box of raisins with dry-roasted nuts or pumpkin seeds for a healthy snack (approximately 1/3 cup).
- Rice cakes: Spread a tablespoon of natural peanut butter (hydrogenated fat-free and sugar-free) on a whole grain rice cake and top with a teaspoon of unsweetened preserves.
- Smoothies: If you have a kitchen at work, smoothies are ideal snacks. Blend 1 cup of nonfat milk, ½ cup of nonfat sugar-free yogurt, 2 drops of vanilla extract, and 1 cup of ice. Optional: add a ½ cup of any type of berries. Editors Note: Sweeten your smoothie with a touch of organic Agave nectar.
- Roll-ups: Spread a small whole-grain tortilla with a teaspoon of mustard and roll-up one ounce of any lean meat, including turkey or chicken breast, roast beef, lean ham, or shrimp.
- Yogurt: Individual cups of low or nonfat, sugar-free yogurt are a great source of calcium. Stir in ½ cup of unsweetened crunchy cereal.
: Experts say that one to two cups, even three or four is safe, and I vote for my morning cup of Joe…and will attest to caffeine’s ability to improve concentration. However, too much coffee will have the opposite effect, making it more difficult to concentrate and for some, causing insomnia. Load your coffee up with cream and sugar and with each cup you’re consuming extra, unwanted calories. For a pick-me-up before 3 PM, have a café “light:” half strong black coffee (or decaffeinated) and half nonfat milk. Heat the milk in the microwave first (about 30-40 seconds, depending on your microwave’s strength), and then add the coffee. Sweeten with Splenda or other sweetener of choice.
: The antioxidant properties in both green and black tea are known to boost immunity: drink with nonfat milk or fortified low-sugar soymilk.
: Drink a glass of water (or from the bottle that you should have at your desk). Wait 15 minutes, and then have your snack. I guarantee you’ll feel more satisfied.
Registered and licensed dietitian Susan Burke March, MS, CDE, is the author of "Making Weight Control Second Nature: Living Thin Naturally” – a book intended to liberate serial "dieters” and make living healthfully and weight-wise intuitive and instinctual over the long term. She may be reached online at www.SusanBurkeMarch.com.