You know, I eat about 6 times a day. If you subtract breakfast, lunch, and dinner, that means 50% of my day is what you’d be forced to classify as “snacks”. The simple math says if you’re eating every 2 1/2 to 3 hours, and you’re consuming around 300 calories each time, you’re consuming about 1800 calories a day, on the low-end. My breakfast typically runs from 220 calories (Oatmeal and a cup of blue/black/straw/raspberries) to 270ish (6 egg whites, green peppers, onions, mushrooms and a whole wheat bagel). My HUGE lunch (Double fiber whole wheat bread, low sodium roast beef, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, a cucumber, half a dozen stalks of celery) stuffs me and weighs in at about 270 calories, so that leaves me some wiggle room at dinner to consume about 400-500 calories, and three opportunities during the day to consume about 300 calories and I’m still significantly under 2000 calories a day. Now factor in AT LEAST half an hour of hard cycling a day (which burns anywhere from 500-700 calories JUST for a half an hour… imagine what I burn in three hours of riding on weekends?) and AT LEAST two to three days of swimming or weight training each week… and you can see how I end up in a serious calorie deficit and a lot of times have to eat significantly more just to avoid losing too much weight.
So my snacks have become somewhat of an obsession with me and I’ve got so many creative ways to eat 300 or so nutrient dense, healthy calories. I’ve noticed however, that over time, I’ve settled on a handful of what I would consider my “go to” snacks of choice. What follows is kind of my own personal “top ten” (but purposely in no particular order… it’d be like trying to pick my favorite child) list of snacks that I really love to eat.
Popcorn – (Serving Size: 3 Tbsp, Calories: 130) – A $20 Air Popper from Target changed my life. No oil, half a cup of kernels, and you’ve got all the makings of a delicious, 300 calorie snack that basically fills a bucket. Every night (and I mean every night) I end the evening sitting down with a nice hot bowl of freshly popped popcorn with no mess to clean up. It’s high in that dietary fiber that our hearts and arteries love so much, it’s actually got a little protein to it, and dammit if it doesn’t fill you right up.
Chobani Greek Yogurt – (Serving Size: 1 Cup, Calories: Approximately 140) – I discovered this through “Eat This Not That: The Supermarket Guide”. Actually, to be more accurate, I discovered Greek Yogurt through the book. Chobani just happens to be my favorite brand. I love the Peach, Strawberry, and Blueberry, and was fortunate enough to run across it at Costco, which sells a dozen containers for just under a dollar each, which is a pretty good price. Each one of these little gems packs about 10 grams of protein into 140 calorie servings with zero fat. It’s almost like your own little delicious cup of protein bar. Think about that. You’re looking for about 300 calories to snack on, and if you added a boatload of fruit to this, you’d be hard pressed to get it up to 200 calories. Go ahead, treat yourself to some Triscuits while you’re at it.
Kirkland Signature Dried Mango and Berries – (Serving Size 1/3 Cup, Calories: 100) – My wife found these at Costco as well. As if I don’t get enough fruit already, here’s a great way to carry it on car rides, on trips to the beach, family outings, picnics, bike rides in the park. You name it. 1/3 a cup is only 100 calories, so you could cram a whole damn cup of these things into a ziplock baggie and snack on them all afternoon. As an added bonus, I’ll point out that the dried strawberries are so delicious you’ll be fighting over them, so pick and eat strategically. I treat them like I used to treat the marshmallows in Lucky Charms. I’d eat all the cereal first, so I’d have a whole bowl of marshmallows to end my breakfast. I like to try and end with a bag full of dried strawberries. Then I treat myself to a grand finish.
Chex Mix – (Serving Size 2/3 Cup, Calories: 120) – I love Chex Mix. Some of the flavored versions are good, some of them are bad, some of them are somewhat nutritionally bad, but when it comes to guilt-free snacking, nothing beats the good ol’ original flavored Chex Mix. I love those little brown melba toast bits and my daughter and I regularly spar over them. 2/3 a cup is actually a nice bowl-full and if you wanna double it, you’re only looking at about 240 calories, so this is one snack that I don’t feel very bad about over-indulging beyond the single serving recommendation. Like all snacks of this nature, watch the sodium, but if you’re generally eating healthy and this is your only sodium rich indulgence, then I think it might be okay.
Oatmeal – (Serving Size: 1/2 Cup Dry, Calories: 150) – Breakfast? Has to be oatmeal. I don’t know exactly when it happened, but sometime over the last year or so I became a 100% official crack-addicted oatmeal addict. I have to eat the shit at least once a day, and if I don’t eat it for breakfast because I chose egg whites that day, then I make it a point to eat it as a snack later in the afternoon. It fills you up like no other food, and when you add fruit to piping hot oatmeal, and the oatmeal cooks the blueberries, blackberries or strawberries a little, it’s heaven. Pure heaven. I don’t sweeten my oatmeal in any way, because, like I said, at some point I just started to realize that I loved the flavor of oatmeal. I don’t like brown sugar in it, but if I have no other fruit around and have to resort to a serving of raisins, I’ll lightly sweeten it with just a teaspoon of brown sugar, and when you don’t normally sweeten your oatmeal, a teaspoon is more than enough. One of the best things I’ve discovered is using frozen berries with the oatmeal. Frozen berries, like most frozen fruits and vegetables are actually as good, and in some cases better nutritionally than fresh picked fruits and berries. Frozen fruits and vegetables are picked at the peak of ripeness and quickly frozen, trapping important nutrients that a lot of times get lost in the time it takes fresh fruits and vegetables to make it to your dinner table. You can find mixed berry medleys at every supermarket I’ve been to, and the price is reasonable. Put them in the fridge and they don’t even need to thaw all the way before use, the piping hot oatmeal will thaw anything you add to it. Quaker Instant Oats, a cup of Frozen Mixed Berries, and in about 2 minutes, you’ve got the most delicious way to start the day since coffee was invented.
In-Season Fruit – (Serving Size: One Fruit, Calories: Depends) – There’s nothing I can say about Fruit except, “I’ve never met an in-season fruit I didn’t like”. Strawberries, Blackberries, Blueberries, Peaches, Watermelon, Grapes, Pineapple, Apples, Kiwis, Oranges, Tangerines, Grapefruit. I eat so much fruit on a daily basis that I never worry about heart-healthy dietary fiber because I’m sure I get it in fruit alone. I love adding fruit to my yogurt. I add fruit to my oatmeal. I eat bananas on Triscuits. You name it, I’ll put fruit on it, in it, near it…
Cucumbers – (Serving Size: 1 Medium Cucumber, Calories: 45) – Man, I can’t get enough of cucumbers. I actually went to Target one day during a lunch break to go get my own paring knife because I was hogging the one here at the office because I ate them so much. Look, they’re forty-five calories, man! What do you expect? They fill you up like mad, they’re astonishingly delicious chilled, and if you wanna REALLY knock ’em out of the park, thinly slice them, mix them with some red onion, add a dash of olive oil and vinegar, salt and pepper to taste, and go ahead and treat yourself to a little mouth orgasm.
Food Lion Seltzer Water – (Serving Size: Unlimited, Calories: 0) – I don’t drink sodas. At all. Ever. I don’t even like them when I go out to dinner as some kind of “treat”. I honestly can’t stand them. Syrupy Sweetness of Corn Syrups or over-sugared drinks that, at this point, just nauseate me. It wasn’t always like that though, and I can’t remember the exact moment that I realized how much I disliked sodas, but it happened as a result of discovering this at my local Food Lion. For about 88 cents (yes, you read that right) I can get a two liter bottle of Seltzer Water. Not “Club Soda”. Not “Tonic Water”. Seltzer Water. Look at the ingredients. See what it says? It says, “Water”. That’s it. Nothing else. You buy two or three of these, and with the money you saved over Coke, Pepsi, or whatever shit you’re buying, walk over to the produce section and spend it on a couple lemons and limes. Now guess what? You’re drinking water with lime and lemon… and it’s carbonated. It’s refreshing, light, effervescent, and most of all, delicious. You’ll never drink a shitty over-sweet soda again.
Triscuits – (Serving Size: 7 crackers, Calories: 120) – Again, scoring points because of the ingredients list, which (for the reduced fat version) is all of three ingredients. Whole (notice that key word? “Whole”?) Grain Soft White Winter Wheat, Soybean Oil, Salt. Seven of these babies packs 3 grams of dietary fiber too. Great for the heart. They pair up easily with other items as well. A couple of ounces of cheese slices, some fresh, homemade guacamole, cottage cheese, peanut butter. The possibilities are endless, and each one is as delicious as the last. Definitely my “go-to” snack food. The dietary equivalent to the “Multi-Tool”.
Nut Butters – (Serving Size: 2 Tbsp, Calories: About 190) – This, I believe is my number one snack (I know, I said “not in order”… but this is my one exception). Notice I didn’t write “Peanut Butter”. There’s a reason for that. Peanut Butter is a close second, but it’s just behind Almond Butter. If you haven’t tried Almond Butter, then I highly suggest you close this browser window right now, get up, get in your car and drive to the nearest location that sells almond butter. It’s easily the greatest snack on earth. High in monounsaturated fats, Vitamin E, and lower in saturated fats than Peanut Butter, Almond Butter is the gift that keeps on giving. My favorite brand is Maranatha. They sell no-stir varieties, but I believe the no-stir contains palm oil. In the case of both peanut butter AND Almond Butter, I will absolutely insist on the ingredients being simply the nut, and perhaps salt as part of the roasting process. Palm oil is a cheap oil that’s added to nut butter to prevent the oils from separating. Unfortunately, it’s really high in saturated fats, which actually makes the whole exercise of eating nut butters pointless. Why on earth would you add sugar, palm oil, or any other additive to something as delicious as a peanut and an almond? You wouldn’t, unless you were a moron. Smucker’s makes the MOST delicious all natural peanut butters. The Crunchy version has a delicious, deeply roasted, peanut flavor, and if you simply must have a sweetened peanut butter, they make an all natural smooth peanut butter sweetened with honey. The ingredients read like some down-home recipe, “Peanuts, Salt, Honey”. They’re wonderful, delicious additions to your diet, just make sure you maintain strict portion control. I recommend partnering the peanut butter with the single serving of Triscuits. There’s a great snack that will fill you up for a couple hours, and only weighs in at about exactly 300 or so calories.