Improving eating habits is high on the list of popular New Year’s resolutions, and it’s a great goal to have, because even small changes to your diet can have big results in the form of more energy, better skin, improved sleep and more.
Of course, “improving eating habits” is quite vague, and it can feel overwhelming to implement a wholesale change in your diet all at once. A smart way to approach a goal of eating healthy is to break it down into smaller parts, and focus on improving them one at a time — and there’s almost no better place to start than with your snack foods.
But snacks are tricky! Many, many snack foods that appear or are marketed as healthy really aren’t healthy at all, making deciphering which kind of snacks to choose a challenge. We tapped nutritionists and healthy eating experts to share some healthy snacking wisdom, including the products they personally turn to and recommend when hunger hits.
Melissa Vasikauskas, a registered dietitian and nutritionist who coaches clients on healthy eating strategies, says, “A healthy snack encompasses all of the nutrients that your body needs to function, while simultaneously satisfying what it is that you are craving.” She says that listening to your cravings is actually a good thing to do — as long as you make smart choices when feeding that craving. “If you are craving something high in sugar,” she says, “it’s because your body is looking for fast acting carbohydrates. You can incorporate foods that you love and that you are craving while also balancing them out with other foods to create a wholesome, satisfying and healthy snack.”
Kristin Kirkpatrick, a registered dietitian and founder of KAK Nutrition Consulting, says, “I tell my patients that a healthy snack is one that gives you bang for your nutritional buck. The snack should be low in sugar (unless fresh fruit), and have adequate fiber and protein. Snacks should fuel us, not drain our energy.”
The experts we spoke to all agreed that aiming for a balanced snack is the goal, and that a balanced snack can have room for an indulgent treat. Mallory Gonzales, a registered dietitian and head of nutrition at Kencko, says, “If you need a bite of chocolate, have a bite of chocolate!” Gonzales explains how to incorporate indulgences into your snack, “I would start by considering the macronutrients in the snack — carbs, protein and fat — and aim to have at least two of them in combination. Better still, try for all three!”
We asked these experts what snacks they make for themselves, and what gadgets and appliances they reach for when whipping up their favorite small bites.
Vasikauskas uses an air fryer to make airfryer chickpeas; she says to toss chickpeas, oil and your favorite spices into an air fryer at 390 degrees for 12-15 minutes. This one was deemed the best affordable air fryer by our testing team.
For something sweeter, Vasikauskas uses her blender to make smoothies. Her basic recipe blends 6 oz. greek yogurt, fresh or frozen fruit, 2 tablespoons of nut butter, ½ cup of juice or water and ice. This particular blender was our pick for the best blender of 2021.
“A toaster oven is also great to heat up some bread and spread peanut butter on,” Vasikauskas says. In addition to peanut butter toast, she also loves these simple go-to snacks: Raw vegetables and crackers with hummus; Greek yogurt with berries and nuts; fruit with cheese.
“Melon ballers make it easy to prepare fruit,” Kirkpatrick says. “They also work if you are putting together protein balls.” Vasikauskas offers a helpful tip for picking fruit-based snacks, “If there’s more than an hour before your next meal, pick out a snack that incorporates protein, carbohydrates and fat. But if you have less than an hour before your next meal, I suggest choosing a piece of fruit, because fruit gets digested quickly and will hold you over to your next meal — without spoiling your appetite.”
“I also love mini waffle makers,” Kirkpatrick says, “because it’s easy to use them to make low carb, low sugar waffles topped with almond butter or 70% dark melted chocolate.” If you’re a meal prepper, you can prepare a batch of mini waffles and freeze them; just pop one in the toaster to reheat.
If you have an Instant Pot, Kirkpatrick recommends investing in a silicone egg bite mold insert. “Egg bite molds can be great for making your own healthy snacks,” she says, and not just egg-based ones. The insert can be used to make egg bites, muffins, mini meatloaf and more.
Gonzales likes popcorn made on the stovetop or with a popcorn maker as a snack. “Popcorn is a whole grain and it contains protein,” she says, “by making popcorn on the stove or in a popcorn maker you can pop with olive oil for a nutritious and fun snack.”
Browsing snack options online can be as overwhelming as it is exciting, but with assistance from nutritionists, we’ve put together a list of healthy snacks on Amazon that are just as delicious as they are nutritious.
Sargento Balanced Breaks Natural White Cheddar Cheese, Sea-Salted Roasted Almonds and Dried Cranberries ($4.29; target.com)
If you often find yourself still hungry after reaching for a small mid-afternoon treat, you probably need to tweak the way you snack. “Oftentimes I see people choosing snacks that have only one or two macronutrients,” Vasikauskas says. “Balancing out carbohydrates with protein and fat (like nuts, peanut butter, hummus or cheese) will satisfy hunger and better prepare you to make healthier choices throughout the day.”
Larabar Gluten Free Vegan Fruit & Nut Bar, 16-Pack ($22.24; amazon.com)
Fruit can absolutely be part of a healthy snack but if you eat it by itself, it’s not going to satisfy you,” Vasikauskas says, which can in turn lead to bad food choices. “This is typically why people end up overeating high carbohydrate foods even though they are trying to eat healthy.” If you’re craving the sweetness of fruit, try pairing it with some nuts and cheese, or pick up a fruit and nut bar.
Kind Healthy Snack Bar, Caramel Almond & Sea Salt, 12-Pack ($14.22, originally $23.88; amazon.com)
Sometimes fruit can satisfy your sweet tooth, but there are times when what you really want is a candy bar. And that’s okay! If you’re looking to replace the occasional candy bar with something healthier that still feels like an indulgent treat, Vasikauskas recommends Kind bars.
Vasikauskas picked out three Sabra snack options that she recommends for people looking for something savory. The brand’s snack pack that pairs classic hummus with pretzel thins provides a bit of protein, a bit of fat and a bit of carbs to keep you full and energized between meals.
For those looking for a gluten free snack, Vasikauskas likes Sabra’s hummus singles — pre-portioned servings that can be enjoyed with carrots, celery and other raw veggies, eaten with gluten free crackers, or just spooned right out of the container.
Sabra Snackers Guacamole and Rolled Tortilla Chips ($3.49; target.com)
One last Sabra option Vasikauskas recommends is the guacamole and rolled tortilla chips snack pack. It’s a great pre-packaged plant-based, vegan snack option that you can grab and eat on the go.
For people following a gluten free and/or vegan diet, Vasikauskas recommends Grab The Gold’s snack bars. They come in two flavors, peanut butter and jelly or peanut butter and chocolate, and are individually wrapped, making them easy to grab and eat on the go.
“I love Quest snacks for my patients because they offer delicious, indulgent options that are satisfying and high in protein,” Kirkpatrick says, “without compromising your nutritional goals.” The Frosted Cookies are among her favorite snacks the brand offers.
Quest Protein Bars are another one of Kirkpatrick’s picks; she says she is particularly fond of the Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough flavor, but varieties such as double chocolate chunk, white chocolate raspberry and oatmeal chocolate chip are also available.
Identifying one healthy snack brand and sticking with it is an easy way to simplify snack time decision making. For Kirkpatrick, the Quest snacks fit the bill because they offer both sweet and savory options, like these protein chips.
These Atkins caramel clusters that Kirkpatrick recommends are basically a candy bar, making them a great snack option for people with a serious sweet tooth.
Kirkpatrick also likes popcorn as a healthy snack option, and for people looking for a grab-and-go option, she recommends SkinnyPop brand. Their individual serving snack bags come in original and white cheddar flavors.
“Some great go-to packaged snack options are seeds, nuts, trail mixes and granola bars,” Gonzales says.
Granola bars are a snack food that can look healthy when it isn’t, and so it’s especially important to read the nutrition information in order to make smart choices. The Nature Valley granola bars are a good choice for a balanced snack.
Gonzales also likes whole grain pretzels, and crackers made from seeds or whole grains, when the craving for something crunchy and salty strikes. “Remember my advice about including at least two macronutrients? Consider pairing your packaged pretzels or crackers with a protein-rich dip to make a more nutritious and satisfying snack.”