Snacking – is it bad for us? And more importantly, what should we be eating? We ask Registered Nutritionist Lucy Patel for the lowdown on snacking.
Having three perfectly balanced meals each and every day is a great target, but let’s face it, with small demanding children and a list of jobs as long as your arm, it can be hard to find either the time or the headspace to make yourself, let alone the family, healthy and nutritious food every day.
This is where understanding how to snack well can be a game-changer. Snacking carries quite a lot of negative baggage these days, with people immediately thinking of biscuits, crisps and other processed junk food. I remember the early days of maternity leave being surrounded by tins of Foxes biscuits and picking at them from 5am until bedtime – good times 😉
But, all a snack really is a way to keep your energy levels up in between mealtimes, and can be an extremely powerful part of a busy mum’s daily routine when time and energy to cook are seriously limited. Keeping yourself nourished is so important – we are often so focussed on keeping our little ones fed, watered and happy that we completely neglect ourselves. So, let’s work to change that!
The most common pitfall when snacking is going too heavy on the carbohydrate; this can lead to an unsatisfying snack that leaves you hungry again within the hour. The key to a well-rounded snack is to ensure you include all three of the key macronutrients: carbohydrate, protein and some healthy fats in there too. Yes, that’s right, we want to include fat! Fat is the demonised food group of our generation, but healthy fats are an absolutely crucial part of any healthy diet.
There are lots of foods out there that tick more than one macronutrient box; eggs, full fat dairy products and nuts are great sources of both protein and fat, so you don’t need to be thinking too hard about having multiple ingredients in each of your snacks.
Other great protein sources are lean meat (such as chicken or turkey), fish, egg, cheese, yoghurt, legumes (such as chickpeas – we all love humous!), beans, and nuts.
When we talk about “healthy fats”, what we mean here is olive oil, nut butters, avocadoes, nuts, seeds and oily fish like salmon, mackerel, trout and tuna.
So, how to build a balanced snack when you have 2 minutes (at a push) to make it? Here are six super-quick snack ideas for you to try:
Some days all you might feel like is a biscuit or a slice of cake with your Mum crew. Of course this is fine, I had my fair share of cake while on maternity leave, believe me! Just try to fit in some healthier options along the way too, to help keep those energy levels up and feeding your body what it needs.
If you literally have zero time to prepare a two-minute snack, do not worry. Here is my list of go-to, ready to eat healthy snacks. Having these handy at home or in your handbag means you have a tasty, healthy snack right at your fingertips, reducing the risk of popping into the closest coffee shop for a muffin.
Having something readily available can be a game-changer when the afternoon hunger gremlins come calling and your natural response is to grab something processed and sugary.
Check out this post which goes into more detail about what these products contain, and most importantly were you can buy them from.
When selecting a packaged snack food, get savvy on understanding food labels. Here is a quick rule of thumb to aim for to ensure what you are choosing is balanced and not filled with sugar (which will only leave you craving something else soon after). A lot of “healthy” cereal bars out there are made up largely of dried fruit which, whilst high in fibre, will spike your blood sugar, lead to a sugar crash and cravings for more even more carbs.
In the ‘per 100g’ column in the ‘Nutrition Information’ table on the back of the packet, aim for:
Don’t worry if you can’t hit this every time – use it is a guideline so you can make more sensible and balanced choices. If one snack is a bit heavy on the sugar, aim for your next one to be lower. It’s all about balance, not getting it right 100% of the time.
Remember to look carefully at portion sizes too; there is a lot of sneaky labelling out there which to the untrained eye implies a whole bag is one portion – this often isn’t the case. Check the back of the packet to ensure you aren’t eating 2-3 portions without realising!
In summary, snacking can be an excellent way of keeping your energy levels up while you navigate the demanding early years of parenthood. Ensure you include carbs, protein and fat, get your cupboards stocked with healthy ready-to-eat snacks for the days you have no time, and remember to check those labels!
If you’d like more content like this, head over to my Instagram (@lucypnutrition) or sign up to my free monthly Newsletter “Eat, Read, Listen” here for recipes, top mum hacks and nutrition tips. I also run a private Facebook group – “The Busy Mum’s Survival Hub” which is a safe, inclusive and judgment-free space for Mums to ask questions and get support on their diet.
You can also find out more about me by visiting www.lucypatelnutrition.co.uk