You may have heard that Dunkin’ Donuts just added “snacks” to its menu with a bakery sandwich line that includes chicken salad on a croissant, grilled cheese on Texas toast, and fried chicken with bacon and ranch on a bun. The grilled chicken flatbread is 360 calories, but some options clock in at more than 600 calories. Dunkin’s CEO is adamant that these items are snacks, not lunch, which begs the question: Just what is a “snack” anyway?
By definition, a snack is a smaller portion of food eaten between meals, but snack trends have changed. For many people, snacks have become as substantial as breakfast, lunch, and dinner—essentially a fourth daily meal. I’m OK with that when I’m counseling my clients, assuming these three conditions are met. First, the fuel must be needed, so the snack doesn’t result in a surplus of calories that wind up feeding fat cells. Second, the snack should be healthy (for more on why not all calories are created equal, check out my previous post 6 Diet Myths, Busted). And finally, snacking should make sense as part of a daily food “budget.” For example, many of my female clients need about 1,500-1,600 calories a day to get to (and stay at) a healthy weight. If they eat four meals a day that are all equally portioned, that means they have about 375-400 calories to “spend” at snack time, their fourth meal.
In choosing snacks, my top goal is to keep it real, by selecting nutrient-rich foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. Here are five clean eating snack options that do just that. Each provides less than 400 calories, from a bit of healthy protein, slow burning carbs, and good-for-you fat, to balance blood sugar, and leave you feeling fueled, energized, and satisfied. Two are sweet, two are savory, one’s a little bit of both, they’re all pretty quick. And I included a fast casual restaurant option you can grab on the go. So snack away—just be smart about it!
Fruity coconut smoothie
Whip one cup of frozen fruit, like berries, cherries, or mango, with either a single-serve container of nonfat organic Greek yogurt, or a protein powder (like pea, hemp, or organic grass fed whey) plus a half cup of water, along with a tablespoon of extra virgin coconut oil, and a dash of fresh grated ginger.
About 300 calories
Fold a quarter cup of rolled oats into two tablespoons of almond butter. Toss one cup of fresh sliced strawberries, blueberries, or raspberries with a half tablespoon each of fresh squeezed lemon juice and water, and warm on the stovetop until juicy. Top warmed fruit with almond oat crumble.
About 300 calories
Serve up a quarter cup of hummus with 15 baby carrots and a side of 10 Kalamata olives.
About 300 calories
Chocolate almond popcorn
Place a quarter cup of organic popcorn kernels in a paper lunch bag, fold the bag over a few times, and microwave on high for two minutes to pop the popcorn. In a small bowl, add one tablespoon of hot water to two tasting squares of 70% dark chocolate and stir slowly until chocolate is melted (if needed, add more water one teaspoon at a time). Drizzle chocolate over popcorn, then sprinkle with a quarter cup of sliced almonds.
About 400 calories
Chipotle veggie salad
Order a salad at Chipotle Mexican Grill with romaine, no dressing, no rice, black beans, fajita veggies, mild salsa, and guacamole.
Cynthia Sass is a nutritionist and registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches. Connect with Cynthia on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.