You probably enjoy having a snack between meals. The snack can do a lot more than provide some tastiness to your day, though. When chosen thoughtfully, snacks can help you get important nutrients, satisfy hunger, and keep you energized and focused throughout the day. Recognizing what makes a healthy snack—and learning some examples—can help upgrade your snack time.
There isn’t a standard recommendation for how many snacks to eat each day. In general, snacks should be smaller than a meal and be made up of foods that are nutrient-rich and low in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium.
It’s also helpful to select snacks that contain a combination of food groups. This way, you’ll get more than one macronutrient (protein, carbohydrate, and fat) along with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. For example, choose a cup of strawberries with a hard-boiled egg to get fiber, healthy carbs, vitamin C, potassium, protein, and a little fat to keep you energized and satisfied.
Snacking contributes almost 30% of Americans’ daily calories. Many of those snacks are high in calories and low in nutrients. Highly processed snacks like chips, cookies, muffins, candy, and sweet drinks are readily available, but they don’t usually curb hunger, which can lead to overeating, weight gain, and other health problems.
However, studies show that snacking on whole foods that provide protein, fiber, and whole grains can improve satisfaction and diet quality.
Try these 10 healthful, satisfying snack ideas to curb hunger and boost energy throughout the day.
Yogurt and Berries
Yogurt is a good source of protein, calcium, and potassium. Many yogurts also provide good
gut bacteria, like probiotics. To help your gut health, look for yogurt that contains healthy bacteria like Lactobacillus bulgaricus or Streptococcus thermophilus.
Berries provide antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
The unique thing about combining yogurt and berries is that, together, they’re thought to have a synergistic effect on health. The two offer greater health benefits when combined compared to when eaten by themselves. Together, yogurt and berries are associated with:
Adding fresh berries can also add natural sweetened flavors to yogurt, especially when trying to avoid or limit processed or added sugars in foods.
Popcorn and Nuts
Popcorn is a great snack because it has fiber and you get a larger portion for relatively few calories—you can eat 3-4 cups of popcorn (with no added butter) for the same calories as 15 potato chips.
Combined with a few unsalted or lightly salted nuts or seeds, you’ll get additional fiber, minerals, and healthy (unsaturated) fats to keep you feeling full.
You can pair the popcorn with:
With calories in mind, the combo snack should be made up of mostly popcorn with just a few nuts or seeds.
Roasted Beans and Fruit
If you you’ve never had roasted chickpeas, broad beans, or edamame, consider giving them a try. The savory snacks—combined with fruit like grapes or mandarin oranges—makes a great portable snack that is sweet, salty, and crunchy all in one.
Beans are high in soluble fiber which slows digestion, helping you feel full longer. Soluble fiber also helps manage cholesterol and blood sugar, which can help manage or prevent type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Whole Grain Crackers and Cheese
The combination of crackers and cheese is an easy on-the-go snack, but you need to be careful about the amount of crackers and cheese. Choose cheeses that are individually wrapped (like string cheese) because they’re pre-portioned for you and easy to carry in a purse or backpack.
When choosing whole-grain crackers, read the nutrition label and look for whole wheat or whole-grain flour as the first ingredient. Then, portion out the number of crackers listed as one serving.
Vegetables and Hummus
Combine a variety of vegetables—baby carrots, celery sticks, sliced cucumber, sugar snap peas, and sliced bell peppers—with 1 to 2 tablespoons of hummus for a light, yet filling snack.
The fiber and vitamins from the vegetables—combined with healthy fat and some carbs and protein from the hummus—can boost nutrition while staving off hunger until your next meal.
Apple Slices With Peanut Butter
Apples are a good source of fiber, vitamin C, and antioxidants. Peanut butter provides healthy (unsaturated) fats, vitamin E, and the mineral magnesium. It’s a naturally sweet and satisfying combination for a snack that keeps you feeling full.
Whole-Grain Cereal With Milk and Fruit
This is an excellent snack, packed with healthy carbs, protein, and fiber. Whole-grain cereal with milk and fruit also has lots of vitamins and minerals, including calcium; magnesium; and vitamins B, C, and D.
Cereal can have the reputation of being highly processed, but it all depends on the one you choose. Look for cereals that:
- Are low in added sugars
- Contain dietary fiber
- List whole wheat, oats, quinoa, or “whole grain blend” as the first ingredient on the nutrition label
- List “100% Whole Grain” on the package (not all whole grain products will have this)
Cottage Cheese and Fruit
Cottage cheese is low in calories and high in nutrients like protein, calcium, and vitamin B12. The fruit adds some natural sweetness, along with fiber and additional vitamins and minerals.
If you prefer savory over sweet, combine cottage cheese with tomatoes and cucumbers or leftover roasted vegetables for a satisfying between-meal snack.
Hard-Boiled Egg and Cherry Tomatoes
This combination works great when you need a snack you can eat quickly. Whether it’s at home, in the car, or at work, you can quickly wash up a cupful of cherry tomatoes and peel an egg or two.
Eggs offer so many valuable nutrients: protein, choline, vitamin D and B12, and antioxidants to name a few. Tomatoes will add fiber, vitamins A and C, and more antioxidants for a quick snack to satisfy a growling stomach.
Whole Grain Toast With Avocado
When making toast, look for bread that is low in added sugars and that is made from whole grains. Mash some avocado, mix in salsa and lime juice, then spread on top of whole grain toast for a heart-healthy, brain-healthy snack.
The whole grains in bread provide fiber and B vitamins. The healthy fats in avocados are good for heart and brain health in the long term and a full stomach in the short term.
Try these tips and strategies to make healthy snacking easier.
Plan Ahead of Your Grocery Store Trip
Before heading out to the grocery store or placing an order online, think about the healthy snacks you’d like to have available for the coming week. Make a list of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and proteins to have on hand in the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry.
Research has shown that meal planning can improve food variety and diet quality. Planning your food ahead of time was also found to be associated with lower body weight.
Part of planning ahead of your shopping trip should also include eating beforehand. Research shows that going food shopping while hungry can lead you to purchase foods that is higher in calories.
Prepare Your Snacks in Advance
Once you have snack foods stocked in your kitchen, wash and cut fresh fruits and vegetables. Then, put them into reusable containers. Preparing snacks in batches ahead of time will make it easier to make a healthy snack choice at home or when you’re heading out the door and need an on-the-go snack.
Combine Food Groups
By choosing foods from two or more food groups, you’ll get a greater variety of nutrients from your snack. Instead of choosing just nuts or a piece of fruit, combine smaller portions of each for a greater variety of nutrients and better absorption of the nutrients.
Place your snack into a bowl or on a plate. Eating straight from a package or large container can lead to overeating. To determine what portion to have, start with the serving size listed on the nutrition label. Another helpful strategy is to buy snacks like popcorn, nuts, and carrots with hummus that come in single-serving packages.
For fruits and vegetables use these visuals as a way to measure one portion:
- One cup of chopped raw fruits or vegetables is the size of a baseball
- One medium apple or orange is the size of a tennis ball
- One-quarter cup of dried fruit or nuts is a golf ball or a small handful
- One cup of lettuce is four large leaves (Romaine lettuce)
- One medium baked potato is a computer mouse
Distracted eating is often less satisfying and can lead to eating a larger portion than needed. Stop what you’re doing for a few minutes, and focus on the smell, taste, and enjoyment of the snack.
There are mixed opinions about whether it’s healthier to include snacks in between meals or only eat meals. One thing for sure is the type of snacks matters.
Highly processed snacks are associated with weight gain and developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Choosing healthy snacks, on the other hand, can have plenty of benefits.
If you experience that mid-afternoon energy slump, a healthful snack containing carbohydrates and protein can provide nutrition to help power through the rest of the day. Snacks can also provide an energy boost before or after exercising.
For some people, excessive hunger can lead to overeating at mealtime, so a healthy snack between meals may decrease hunger and help prevent overeating later. One study in adolescents showed that a high-protein soy snack not only reduced hunger, but also improved mood and cognition.
Another small study showed that combining protein and carbohydrates was effective in reducing hunger and daily calorie intake.
Improves Diet Quality
Diet quality refers to the type and amount of nutrients consumed from foods that support overall health. Although more research is needed, some studies show healthy snacks can provide important nutrients—vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein—that could be missing without snacks or by only eating highly processed snacks.
Helps With Weight Management
Snacking has been associated with both weight gain and weight loss. What you’re snacking on can be the difference maker. If you’re choosing healthy snacks that improve energy levels and help you stay full longer, then snacking may be a useful weight management tool for you.
Snacking can be part of a healthy eating pattern. The key is to choose healthy snacks instead of highly processed snacks that are high in sugar, sodium, and saturated fat. Examples of healthy snacks include yogurt and berries, popcorn and nuts, and roasted beans and fruit. Eating healthy snacks can help fill in missing nutrients, satisfy hunger, and keep you energized and focused throughout the day. If you need more healthy snack ideas, talk with a registered dietitian or healthcare provider.