With all of the activities in today's society, kids going to soccer practice here, and dance recitals there, it seems like there is no time to eat a healthy snack. And, when there is an opportunity, it is very tempting to just drive thru a fast food restaurant and get a hamburger and french fries, or get a bag of chips and a candy bar from a convenience store. 

However, it is possible to have a busy lifestyle and eat healthy snacks. And especially since your world is so busy, it is even more important to fuel up those bodies with nutritious snacks that will keep you and your family running. 

You may already be eating three healthy meals a day, and still feel hungry in between. How do you accommodate those hungry feelings? By eating healthy snacks, of course. Choosing to eat the right snacks will help keep your mind sharp, your body performing at a much higher level, and you can do so in no more time then it takes to eat less healthy choices. 

What are the benefits of eating healthy snacks?

Your children may frequently share with you that they are hungry, which is quite normal for them during their adolescent years. This hunger is their body's way of communicating that they need more nutrients. Eating healthy snacks will provide their growing bodies with that amount of nutrients and vitamins that they need. 

"It's very important that you monitor what you and your family eat," said Dr. Lucas Henderson, pediatrician at Rocky Mountain Youth Clinics. "Filling up with junk food snacks may seem like a good short-term fix, but they are generally high in fat, carbohydrates and calories. So, your energy level will only be high for a very short time and then you will experience a sharp decline and crash, if you will." 

To keep your body operating at a high level of energy (while avoiding adding extra pounds), avoid foods that have added extra sugar such as soda beverages and candy bars. Search out foods that have fiber, such as fruits, cereals, whole-grain breads, and vegetables, and add them to foods that are high in protein, such as peanut butter, low fat yogurt, or low fat cottage cheese. 

How can I tell if snacks are healthy? 

Selecting healthy snacks means you will need to be a label reader and a smart shopper. Here are some things to be careful of:

  • Items that read "all natural," "organic," or "pure" can be misleading in that it doesn't necessarily mean that they are healthy for you. Let's use the "all natural snack" label you see on some juice type drinks as an example. They may contain a lot of sugar, and while sugar may actually be a "natural" ingredient, it certainly is high in calories, which makes it an unhealthy choice.
  • Another example of a food that most people think of when it comes to healthy snacks, are granola bars. While there may be a certain amount of nutrients and vitamins in a granola bar, many contain large amounts of fat, and especially a specific kind of fat, trans fat, which is very harmful to your body. You should always read the nutrition label on products before you purchase them to make sure you know what you are putting in your body, or you are feeding to your family.
  • Be cautious of labels that claim to be a "low fat snack." Check the calories on the regular version with that of the "low fat." Often times sugar is added to the "low fat" version to make the taste more appealing, and in the process generally you will find that they have about the same number of calories. Reading nutrition labels on the products will be your best indicator of whether or not the product is a healthy snack choice, regardless of what the packaging may read. A new trend in branding in recent years has been to use healthy sounding company names. Be sure to look past the name of the company, as well as the product name, and read the nutrition label. It will serve you and your family's health well. 

How to make a healthy snack lifestyle work for you

Below are some fun ways to help you work healthy snacks into your busy lifestyle:

  • Create your snacks in advance .You can make your own healthy trail or granola mix. By meal prepping snacks, you get to select the ingredients, so you can make sure that it is filled with healthy snack choices. Another good idea is to keep plenty of fresh fruit at home so that you can cut them into snack portions, place them in small containers (or plastic bags), and have them ready to go out the door with you and your family at a moments notice.
  • Make it a habit to take nutritious snacks with you. Start thinking of healthy snack choices that you can take with you before you walk out the door. Besides the trail or granola mixes and fresh fruit, baby carrots, and whole-grain crackers are also good choices. These healthy snacks fit well into purses, gym bags, backpacks, etc.
  • Change it up! It's human nature to crave variety when it comes to eating. Healthy snacks are no different. Change it up once in a while. Treat your taste buds to peanut butter and raisin topped rice cake, a whole-wheat pretzel with zesty mustard, or maybe a fat free yogurt with fruit.
  • Trade your cravings for healthy choices. If you have a passion for eating chocolate, instead of eating a milk chocolate candy bar, trade that craving for a chocolate protein drink. That milk chocolate candy bar has over 300 calories, 21 grams of fat, and 41 grams of sugar. Now, compare that with the chocolate protein shake, which has 105 calories, 0 grams of fat, 1 sugar, and, as a bonus, you also get in 24 grams of protein. Now, chocolate is a healthy snack choice.  Instead of ice cream, eat frozen non-fat yogurt. If it's chips that your taste buds are calling out to, instead of regular chips and sour cream, delight them with tortilla chips and salsa.
  • Check out the serving size on the label. Make sure to read the nutrition label to see how many servings are in the package. Often times the package looks like there should be just one, but in reality, there are two or more. If the nutrition label on an eight-ounce container of ice cream reads "2 servings," then the calories, fats, sugars, etc. are all times two. For example, 230 calories would actually be 460 calories for the entire container.
  • Make sure you don't falter in the evening. It can be very tempting to eat those unhealthy snacks after you have eaten your dinner (and before you go to bed at night). But don't give in. Choose healthy snacks, especially those high in protein when it is close to bedtime. 

Healthy Snacks Ideas

Try these tasty healthy snacks:

  • Healthy Trail Mix: Ingredients: 1 cup of whole-grain toasted oat cereal; 1/4 cup of dried cranberries; 1/4 cup of walnuts. Directions: mix and serve.
  • Iced Bananas: Ingredients: 3 very ripe bananas, water, berries (your choice), nuts (your choice). Directions: slice the bananas into 1 inch sections and place them into a sealed plastic bag. Place in freezer for at least 1.5 hours (or until frozen). Remove from bag and place bananas in a blender with 1/2 cup of water. Blend. Pour into a dessert bowl and place berries and nuts on top. Serve.
  • Hummus with Whole-grain Pita: Ingredients: low fat hummus (your choice of flavor), and pita. Directions: warm up the pita in an oven. Cut into small triangles. Dip the pita into the hummus and serve. (Hummus is also a tasty treat with sliced vegetables.)
  • Healthy Popsicles: Ingredients: juice (your choice of store bought unsweetened, 100% juice). Pour juice into empty ice trays and place into freezer until frozen. Also, try squeezing your own juice from fresh fruit. For added convenience, place new popsicle sticks into ice trays after about two hours.
  • Tree of Ants: Ingredients: celery, peanut butter, and raisins. Directions: wash desired number of celery stalks, then cut up into 3-4 inch slices. Spread peanut butter into the celery, and place raisins on top of the peanut butter. Serve. 

"Please keep in mind that moderation is key in any healthy lifestyle," says Dr. Henderson, pediatrician at Rocky Mountain Youth Clinics. "Individuals who eat regular meals and healthy snacks are less likely to put on excess weight and overeat then those people who eat only one or two meals a day and then binge eat with unhealthy foods."

It's normal to feel hunger pains during certain times, after practice, a stressful meeting, etc. It's your body and knowing how much fuel it needs is very important to a healthy lifestyle.