Written by Neil Welsh for his blog, Neil Welsh Nutrition.
As parents we are constantly surrounded by snacks and these snacks can vary greatly in nutritional quality.
When it comes to our children, most feeding professionals recommend feeding our kids two snacks per day as stepping stones between their three meals. But does the same go for us as parents? There is some debate about whether it is better to stick to three meals per day or to graze constantly. Some argue that snacking boosts the metabolic rate whilst others say that constant snacking never allows the body to burn fat as fuel. There does not seem to be a definitive answer on this one. So what do we do?
First things first, let’s go back to basics. Any diet, of which snacking may or may not be a part, must tick a number of boxes to be successful. These boxes include being practical, enjoyable and achievable. You know yourselves better than anyone else. If your kids are snacking regularly and you snack with them then that’s fine. If you eat dinner with the kids at 5pm and need to eat something to get your through to bed time then go ahead.
Let snacking fit into your day in a way that works for you, or not. If you are happy with three meals per day then carry on that course… but you will be in the minority these days as we are very much a nation of snackers these days. A recent YouGov survey found that more than half of British women (54%) snack twice per day… but 84% of those women instantly feel guilty about it. Holy Smokes!!
From a nutrition and health point of view this sets off the alarm bells, ding-a-ling! It is not so much the frequency of snacking, that is not a problem (as we will look at in a second), but the guilt associated with snacking is a huge amount of emotional baggage that impacts many areas of our lives. Daily (yes, DAILY!) feelings of shame, guilt and disgust are emotionally exhausting and have a knock on effect on the rest of the food that we eat.
So how do we stop feeling guilty about snacking and ensure that it works as part of our daily lives? One of the most important things is accept that you are going to snack and include it in your eating plan. A recent US report found that adults are consuming around 500 calories per day through snacking. If you are aiming for 2,000 calories per day then this is a big chunk of your allowance. Again, this is fine as long as it is accounted for. It is very easy to look at a the main meals of a diet and think that your intake is fairly healthy by discounting snacking which might be pushing your calories up and killing your weight and health goals.
We must also consider what we are snacking on as not all calories are equal. Let’s say for argument sake we ate two chocolate hobnobs (is it possible to eat just two?), that will come in at around 180 calories. For the same amount of calories you could eat about 4-5 carrots. Now, this does not mean that you have to swap out chocolate hobnobs for carrots from now on but we do need to be aware about what we are snacking on.
We also need to be aware of what we are eating during meal times. If you are planning to eat 2,000 calories per day and around 500 of those calories are coming from snacking then that leaves only 1,500 for three meals and any drinks you have (glasses of red also count!). If you have grazed like cattle during the day, bear this in mind in your portion size at meal times. If smaller portion meals aren’t hitting the spot (which they should do if you are snacking properly) then you might need to look at the balance of snacks to main meals or consider more satiating meals (high protein, high fibre, high volume (lots of air or water) and low energy density).
The easiest way to be mindful is to plan ahead. Try not to keep an endless supply of snacks in the house and include buying healthy snacks in your weekly shop. Allow yourself unhealthy snacks too (remember the realistic and enjoyable check boxes?!) but limit that amount. If you have a habit of ploughing your way through a big bag of Kettle chips on the sofa then maybe don’t keep these in the house…. the whole bag is about 700 calories and has over half of your daily reference intake of fat. Yikes.
Planning healthy snacks will also give your kids better snacking options too (which you can be a role model for). Kids love snacks and they actually need them too but many kids associate “snacks” with treats. With a bit of planning, snacks can be healthy:
Here comes the controversial bit…. Start now. Right now. Re-addressing snacking can have a big impact on the physical and mental health of both you and your family.
If you are reading this then, hopefully, this will be a topic that is relevant to you. The first step to controlling your snacks, before planning your next shopping outing is to go to your kitchen and clear out all the crap that you know is not doing you any favours. If there is lots of it then take it to a food bank. If there is not so much of it, bin it! Now, I hate to waste food, but sometimes you have to make a small sacrifice to start making big gains.
Feel free to save yourself a few chocolate digestives, but if you have a box or draw full of Quavers, Dairy Milk, Haribo, M&Ms, Hula Hoops, Kettle Chips, Lindt chocolate balls, etc then bin the lot, now. Do it whilst you are motivated and make your next snack decision so much easier.
Remember, you are not a dustbin and a small change to your snacking can have a big impact on your family’s health.