Eating several small meals a day is one strategy to keep your metabolism constantly revved. But if you’re already putting back a full plate of food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, what you’re snacking on in between those meals can really add up. “Besides fueling up before and after a workout, most people don’t need more than one snack between lunch and dinner,” says Melissa Dobbins, R.D.N., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The average American, however, gets 25 percent of their daily food intake — or about 580 calories — from snacks.
So what do you do on those days when you’ve got the munchies? A good option is to limit yourself to a 100- to 200-calorie bite that incorporates fruit, veggies, whole grains, nuts or low-fat dairy. A combination of these foods will pack a punch of both protein and fiber, advises Dobbins. “These two nutrients in particular have staying power because they break down more slowly and don’t trigger the insulin release that refined carbs do,” she says. Whether you’ve got a sweet tooth or are always battling savory cravings, here are some healthier replacement recommendations for your go-to snacks.
If you love: Trail mix
Reach for: Raw almonds and dried apricots
Store-bought trail mix can have extra sugar from chocolate candies or be loaded primarily with peanuts. Almonds offer more iron, calcium and vitamin E. “Pairing them with dried fruit adds some satiating fiber,” says Dobbins. Apricots pack some concentrated calories, so a little goes a long way. Stick with an ounce of almonds (approximately 22 nuts) and about three apricots to stay around 200 calories.
If you love: Potato chips
Reach for: Sprouted-grain chips
There’s little nutritional value (aside from 187 calories and 12.5 grams of fat) in a serving of these greasy crisps, but put a spin on how they’re made and it becomes a healthier alternative. “When a grain, seed or bean is allowed to sprout a little bit, it opens up the hard outer shell and releases the nutrients inside, such as fiber and protein,” explains Dobbins. Simply Sprouted Way Better Sweet Potato Tortilla Chips, for example, contain 170 calories and nine grams of fat per serving — plus three grams of fiber and a dose of vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids.
If you love: Granola bars
Reach for: A nut bar
“Many granola bars are just glorified candy bars,” says Dobbins. “When we eat refined grains, they burn quickly and just keep making us hungrier for more.” Break that cycle with an option made of whole grains and nuts, such as the new line of Strong & Kind bars. They’re slightly sweet and savory, contain no hydrogenated oils or refined carbs, and pack in 10 grams of protein and nine amino acids from legumes, nuts and seeds.
If you love: Ice cream
Reach for: Greek yogurt with strawberries
A sweet treat seems so tempting when you need a pick-me-up — but the sugar will eventually leave you crashing. Greek yogurt can curb your craving for something creamy while providing 17 grams of protein to keep you full and only five grams of sugar. Plus, it’s a more concentrated source of probiotics than regular yogurt, says Dobbins, which can help your body digest food, absorb calories, and keep your immune system strong. Satisfy your sweet need with a cup of sliced strawberries; according to the USDA, for just 50 calories, you’ll add three grams of fiber and get your daily recommended intake of vitamin C covered.
If you love: Cheese and crackers
Reach for: Low-fat cheese and carrots
Dobbins suggests opting for pre-packaged varieties of this dairy staple, like low-fat string cheese or cheddar cheese sticks, to take the guesswork out of serving sizes. “You have to watch portion size or your snack can easily become a small meal,” she says. Skip the sodium and hydrogenated oil–loaded crackers and instead pair your savory treat with chopped carrots; they offer more calcium, vitamins A and C and potassium than baby carrots.
Before you munch on anything between meals, ask yourself if you’re actually hungry or just feeding an emotion like boredom or anxiety, advises Dobbins. Then once you’ve given yourself the green light to snack, stick to one of these healthier alternatives to your favorites; they’ll give you the energy you need to get on with your day without weighing you down.