How to Build Balanced Snacks + 30 Healthy Snack Ideas
It’s 3 pm and your energy is running low. You need something to keep yourself from totally nodding off, so you grab a bag of chips. They don’t totally satisfy, but they taste good and you’re too busy to eat anything else.
Fast-forward a few hours and you’re arriving home feeling HANGRY to say the least. Just about anything sounds good and you know you’ve gotta eat something before you start dinner. A few handfuls of cereal, a half a box of crackers, an apple and some string cheese later, and you’re feeling less than amazing (hello, food guilt!) and your appetite for dinner is totally shot.
If this scene sounds familiar, this post is for you. And honestly… this is what I really needed to hear a few years ago when I was still healing my relationship with food.
Snacks don’t have to leave you feeling sluggish. In fact, healthy balanced snacks should leave you feeling full, satisfied and totally in control around food.
Read on to learn why I recommend snacking on the regular, and my easy formula for building balanced, filling and satisfying snacks every time. Bonus: scroll to the end of this post for 30 balanced snack ideas!
Is snacking healthy?
In the free-for-all world of Google nutrition, there seems to be some debate about whether or not snacking is a healthy habit. My take? Yes! But also… it depends!
Like with almost everything in nutrition, whether you include snacks or not depends on you and your unique body. The un-sexy truth is that we will all respond differently to different styles of eating.
But in general, I consider snacking a healthy habit because:
- Snacks help add nutrients and fibre to your day
- Snacks help stabilize blood sugars throughout the day
- Smaller meals with snacks may be better tolerated for those with sensitive digestive systems when compared to large meals
- Well-balanced snacks prevent hanger and help you feel in control around food
- Let’s be real-snacks are life!
How to build healthy snacks that fill you up
Okay, so now that you know I’m a snack super-fan, let’s talk The Formula!
To build a filling, nutritious snack, include at least two of the following:
- Carbs: Carbs provide fuel. That’s why when you’re low on energy, this is often what you’ll crave. Fiber-filled carbohydrates are best, but they can truly all fit.
- Protein: Protein is for staying power. Not only is this macronutrient the building block for muscles and other lean tissue, it also boosts satiety and helps regulate appetite.
- Fat: Fat gives satisfaction. It’s true that fats are calorie-dense and a little goes a long way, but they’re still important for staying full and satisfied.
These are called the macronutrients. Macronutrients provide our bodies with calories, which give us energy to breathe, stand and… well, live!
Aim to combine foods from at least two different categories at snack time. If you can fit all three, even better! Here’s an easy guide to help you build your perfect snack.
Examples of healthy carbs
Healthy carbs include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, starchy vegetables and beans.
Some easy balanced carbs for snacks include:
- Whole grain bread
- English muffins
- Seed crackers
- Dried fruits like apricots
- High fiber frozen waffles
- Roasted chickpeas
- Roasted fava beans
- Snap peas
- Baby carrots
- Grab-and-go fruits like apples and bananas
Are you surprised that fruits and vegetables fall into the same category as whole grains and starchy vegetables? All these foods contain carbohydrates, but in different amounts.
It’s okay to choose a fruit or veggie as your carb source sometimes. But don’t forget, starchy carbs like whole grain bread and beans have unique benefits too. A healthy balanced diet will have lots of variety and include both.
Examples of healthy proteins
Protein comes from meat, dairy, eggs, beans, nuts and seeds. It’s also found in processed foods like tofu, protein powder and seitan.
Some easy balanced protein foods for snacks include:
- Greek yogurt
- Cottage cheese
- Boiled eggs
- Rotisserie chicken
- Deli turkey
- Pumpkin seeds
- Beef or turkey jerky
- Protein powder (add this to smoothies!)
- Tuna packets or cans
- Frozen edamame
- Cheese sticks
- Roasted chickpeas
Are you surprised that some of these foods are on the list of healthy carbs too? That’s because many foods contain more than one macronutrient! And many plant-based proteins contain carbs and fats too.
Don’t stress over what category each food fits best. Instead, focus on getting a variety of options on your plate.
Examples of healthy fats
Healthy fats are found in certain plants and fatty fish.
Not-as-healthy fats are found in animal products, highly processed snack foods (think Doritos!), and dairy… although that one’s still being debated.
Some easy balanced fats for snacks include:
- Canned tuna or salmon
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Ground flaxseed (add to oats!)
- Hemp seeds
- Peanut butter
- Almond butter
It’s not realistic for 100% of the fat in your diet to be ‘healthy’. Try to aim for 80% of your fats coming from these or other nutritious sources.
Are low calorie snacks healthy?
You may be thinking, “This sounds great but I’m worried about calories.”
My response? Calories are not king… despite what Reddit might tell you!
I mean, it’s true that in order to maintain our weight we need to balance the amount of calories we consume (through food and beverages) with the amount of calories we expend (through daily living and exercise).
And weight loss does require a calorie deficit. But a low calorie snack isn’t always superior.
If you’re snacking out of boredom, sure, a simple snack of veggies or fruit may work for you. I’ll never discourage adding more produce into your day! But if you’re snacking out of true hunger, a low calorie snack simply means it will provide less energy and little satisfaction.
I challenge you to shift your thinking. Instead of viewing snacks as an opportunity to keep your calories as low as possible, think of them as an opportunity to nourish. To help you feel full and fuelled.
A well-balanced snack helps provide your body with nutrients to help you feel your best. And a well-balanced day of eating prevents those ‘binge-like’, out-of-control feelings that can happen when we chronically under-fuel. Full, balanced snacks regulate appetite and keep you in control.
More tips for healthy snacking
Fiber is so important for digestion and overall health. But it also helps you feel full and stay full! Choose minimally-processed carbs like fruits, veggies and whole grains most… and reserve the fun ones like cookies and chips for when you really crave them!
Serve extra protein
Protein is one of the hardest food groups to prep… and let’s be honest, it’s not the most appealing. But it’s also so important for feeling full and satisfied between meals. Serve a bigger serving of protein than you’re used to and pay attention to how it makes you feel.
Use fats mindfully
Healthy fats are important for health and emotional satisfaction. But they’re also calorie-dense, so a little goes a long way! Focus on fiber and protein first, and use healthy fats to fill in the gaps.
Nutrition is awesome. But if you leave your snack of celery sticks and hummus feeling unsatisfied, it’s a surefire way to ensure you reach for the chocolate chips later that night. Include fun foods you enjoy regularly and always choose nutritious foods you actually like.
It’s hard to notice fullness and satisfaction if your mind is on your phone or TV. Pay attention when you eat balanced snacks – notice the taste, texture and how it leaves you feeling.
30 Healthy balanced snack ideas
Here are some simple, filling snack combinations I love:
- Sliced apple and cheddar cheese
- Soy milk latte and fruit of choice
- Mixed nuts and chocolate
- Frozen waffle with nut butter and berries
- High fibre crackers and hummus
- Carrot sticks and guacamole
- Graham crackers and peanut butter (add some chocolate chips, trust me!)
- Oatmeal with fruit and almond butter
- Dried apricots and pecans
- Plain greek yogurt with sliced grapes and honey
- Homemade muffin and peanut butter
- Activia yogurt with mixed nuts
- Raspberries and chocolate chips
- Bell peppers and hummus
- Rice cakes with guacamole and hemp seeds
- Homemade trail mix with popcorn, nuts and dried cranberries
- Turkey and cheese roll-ups
- Whole wheat english muffin, avocado and hard boiled egg
- Celery sticks and peanut butter
- Turkey jerky and baby carrots
- Edamame with sliced cucumbers
- Mixed nuts and chocolate
- Chia pudding with berries
- Homemade smoothie with greek yogurt, fruit and flaxseed
- Snap peas and hummus
- Whole milk latte and popcorn
- Pretzels and peanut butter
- Snack bar such as KIND Bars, GoMacro or RXBAR
- Greek yogurt with peanut butter and berries
- Whole wheat bagel with hummus and tomato
What would you add to this list? Do you prefer sweet or savory? Leave your additions and thoughts in the comments!
Don’t forget, all foods can fit. These nutritious snacks are awesome choices most of the time, but sometimes you’re just going to want a cookie… and that’s totally OK!
If you have any questions about this blog post or want to learn how to make your favourite foods fit without dieting, connect with me on Instagram or join the next round of my life-changing program to transform your habits and relationship with food.