Three meals a day — breakfast, lunch, and dinner — is a way of life many of us were taught by our parents. But all current research has found that consuming more frequent, small meals could be better. Eating six small meals a day helps regulate blood sugar, controls cravings and keeps hunger at bay. Eating more frequently could actually mean less nutrition and more calories if you don’t carefully plan out your snacks and meals.
For maximum satisfaction, each mini-meal or snack should include lean- or low-fat protein, fiber, and a little healthy fat. For good nutrition, try to include at least one fruit or veggie in each mini-meal.
Here are some healthy snacking strategies for your mini-meals:
- Vary veggies. Baby carrots are an obvious choice, but you can also liven up your meal with brighter, more unusual offerings: something green, such as lightly steamed snap peas, green beans, or—for a veggie that doubles as an activity—edamame; something crunchy, such as radishes or sticks of jicama, celery, fennel, or bell peppers; and something little, such as cherry tomatoes.
- Go crackers. We like crunchy whole wheat Ak-Maks and tangy four-ingredient Finn Crisps (whole-rye flour, water, salt, and yeast). For topping, think protein: Bring along wrapped single-serving cheeses, such as string cheese or Mini Babybels, or single-serving packets of peanut or almond butter (look for Justin’s), which can also be squeezed onto a stalk of celery.
- Better bars. It’s a brave new world of energy bars and granola bars—especially for those of us who grew up knowing only the crunchy, rectangular-oatmeal-cookie kind. Look for bars made entirely of nuts and dried fruit, such as Larabars, or with added whole grains, such as Kind bars, or, if anybody’s fading, with loads of protein, such as Clif Bars or Luna Protein Bars. (A cautionary note: Some of these are loaded with sugar so be sure to read the labels.)
- Easy-eating fruit. Think small and sturdy: Cherries, bananas, and grapes make for fuss-free munching, as does a cut-up melon or pineapple. Avoid any fruit that will turn to mush packed to go (peaches, nectarines, we’re looking at you).
- Wrapped wraps. A foil-covered wrap means that you can peel as you go. Hummus, sliced cheese, or deli lunch meats all make good fillings, and be sure to add something crunchy: sliced cucumbers, bell peppers, or shredded cabbage, which will resist limpness longer than lettuce.
- Hail to the kale. Kale chips are salty and addictive, and even the pickiest eaters can be persuaded to try them.
- Spice it up. Roasted chickpeas are crunchy like nuts and packed with protein—but with only a fraction of the fat. They’ll take to whatever seasonings you favor, including Old Bay, curry powder, smoked paprika, or a bit of cayenne. Pumpkin seeds or hulled green pepitas can also be prepared in much the same way, and are tasty and full of nutrients.
- Get poppin’. A stovetop popcorn popper makes popping corn from scratch so easy and satisfying that you can assign the task to your kids. Besides, popcorn’s a whole food—and it’s full of fiber! Stick with a sprinkle of salt; add your favorite spices or herbs such as cinnamon or curry powder; or try the surprisingly delicious topping of nutritional yeast, packed with B complex vitamins.