Raise your hand if you have ever bought a snack from a vending machine. For busy folks running from place to place or munching at a desk, packaged foods are more convenient thanks to their “grab and go” qualities. But that ease comes with a significant health cost.
Foods like chips, cookies and breakfast bars are more processed, which means additional ingredients were added to make them taste good while also staying shelf stable. Between added sugars, saturated and trans fats, refined grains and artificial preservatives, too many processed foods can have a detrimental effect on one’s health and well-being.
That’s where we come in! In this article, learn more about what makes a satisfying snack and some wholesome, delicious options to try at the office.
Important note: Before we begin, please note the intent of this article is to raise awareness about how simple snack swaps can help better fuel your day. It is not to be taken as medical advice and any concerns about your health and diet should be taken up with your primary care physician.
What should be in an ideal snack?
Experts vary on how many calories a snack should have, as ideal caloric intake varies from person to person. But if using a 2,000-calorie diet as a general baseline, a snack should range from 150-250 calories. This is enough to satisfy hunger and provide fuel until the next meal, but not enough to make you full.
It is also important to make your snacks count: reach for foods that provide nutrients and natural energy to get you through the day.
Not sure what those kinds of wholesome snacks look like? We’ve got you.
What are some good snack options?
In this section, we’ve rounded up some popular snacks and offered healthier, more satisfying alternatives for the same number of calories. We’ve even included a bonus section to help satisfy your after-dinner sweet tooth. Because at the end of the day, we want you to enjoy foods that taste good and fill you up.
So, consider some of these comparisons:
For around 250 calories, you could eat these:
- One high-end granola bar: On the surface, this may sound like a good option, as many of these contain natural ingredients. But not all bars are created equal: some contain just as much sugar as a full-size candy bar! Therefore, you’re more likely to suffer from an energy crash, causing you to reach for snack number two before lunchtime.
- One cup of Honey Nut Cheerios with 1/3 cup whole milk: To be clear, one cup does not translate into one bowl. One cup is already 140 calories without the milk (which adds another 50 or so). This serving also contains 12 grams of added sugar, which is quite a bit! This is probably a much smaller portion than you’d pour for yourself, so you can see how easy it is to fill the bowl and eat more than one serving.
- Unsalted brown rice cake with nut butter spread and fruit: Rice cakes are a great vessel for a nutritious snack. With one tablespoon of nut butter and a handful of fresh fruit like blueberries, bananas or strawberries, you have a snack that will fill you up until lunch. And don’t forget that frozen fruit works just as well! Just make sure you let it thaw at room temperature for 30 minutes before eating.
- One cup of full-fat Greek yogurt with a drizzle of honey: Greek yogurt is rich in protein and calcium, which makes it a great snack. And don’t be fooled by the word “fat” here: certain full-fat foods are just as healthy. If you choose the nonfat version, you can bulk up your snack with about a quarter cup of sliced almonds, which are high in nutrients.
For around 250 calories, you could eat these:
- One 1.5-ounce bag of chips from the vending machine: So, 1.5 ounces of anything is not a lot. You would hope that a snack that small would be packed with nutrients to fill you up. But sadly, that small bag contains 240 calories that include 20% of your daily fat value and 250 milligrams of sodium. Therefore, you’ll likely be hungry again not long after polishing off the bag.
- 12 ounces of a store-bought berry smoothie: Popular chains tend to serve these in 24-ounce sizes, so you’d have to only drink half to stay within 250 calories. But even at half the size, there is still a lot of sugar. U.S. guidelines say no more than 10% of your caloric intake should be from sugar, so that would be 50 grams (200 calories) for a 2,000-calorie diet. A half serving of Tropical Smoothie Café’s acai berry has 48 grams and if you drank the whole thing, you’d more than double the recommended sugar intake.
- Four cups of air-popped popcorn with seasoning: Air-popped popcorn has only 30 calories per cup and is a good source of fiber. And unlike the microwave variety, you have better control over the amount of oil and type of flavoring used. There are tons of options for seasoning, so have fun experimenting! (Tip: To help the seasoning stick, put the popped corn in a sealable plastic bag, spray with just a bit of oil and then add the seasonings. Give the bag a good shake and enjoy!)
- 12 baby carrots and 2 tablespoons of hummus: Carrots are great for oral health: they are packed with vitamins A and C and can help reduce cavities by creating more saliva with their crunch factor. They are also delicious when paired with hummus, which only clocks in at 70 calories. And since 90% of Americans don’t eat the recommended 2-3 cups of vegetables a day, this is an easy way to get in a serving of veg!
Evening sweet treat
For around 150 calories, you could eat these:
- 1/4 cup vanilla ice cream: Let’s be honest: have you seen 1/4 cup of ice cream? That’s about the size of a few strawberries. And in just two bites, you’ve consumed 100 calories. Even the FDA-recommended serving size of 2/3 cup (which adds almost 300 calories) is still smaller than what most think of as a serving.
- Two Oreos: Again, who eats two Oreos? And yet, just two of these small cookies clock in at 140 calories. You could certainly eat just two, but you’re likely to not feel satisfied and may find yourself reaching for more.
- One whole frozen Greek yogurt bar: If a sweet ice cream-style treat under 150 calories sounds too good to be true, then do we have news for you! Not only can you enjoy much more of a treat for the calorie count, but you can also benefit from Greek yogurt’s protein boost: protein fills you up and helps reduce muscle loss.
- Two cups of mixed berries with two tablespoons of whipped cream: Berries like strawberries, blueberries and raspberries are already sweet by nature and full of vitamins and antioxidants. Topping them off with two tablespoons of whipped cream creates a dessert that feels indulgent but equally satisfying.
The bottom line: As you can see, being a knowledgeable consumer is the key to satisfying snacking. Understanding portions and what food is made of will go a long way toward helping you eat things that taste good and fill you up.