The snack drawer’s siren call is potent. You’ll hear it at 4:00 p.m. on a long work day. An hour before bed. Any time lunch was just a salad.
But we all know where it leads us: nursing a bellyache and/or caked in Cheeto dust and shame.
That’s fine when you’re, say … 10. But as the years roll on, our bodies can no longer process low-energy “food” packed with ingredients that were dreamt up in a chemistry lab. And while we know how to throw some almonds and dried fruit into a bowl like anyone else, we wanted to learn a little more about responsible (but still tasty!) snacking.
Like: What nutritional gaps can we fill in? Are energy bars permissible? Does snacking still hold weight in the age of intermittent fasting?
To answer those questions and a good dozen more, we tapped Dan Churchill, the energetic chef who plays the role of nutritionist on fellow Aussie Chris Hemsworth’s new health and wellness app, Centr. He’s also the culinary brains behind DudeFood: A Guy’s Guide to Cooking Kick-Ass Food, a recent finisher of the New York City Marathon and a general steward of excellent vibes.
From the one snack he can’t live without to the importance of thinking “colorfully,” Dan helped us put together a handy, 15-step guide to smarter snacking. Spoiler alert: start thinking of snacks as mini-meals. You might soon be cooking your next one.
1. In the age of intermittent fasting and trend diets, what’s the state of snacking today?
There is definitely still a case to be made for snacks. If you’re going to have a snack, your body is likely in need of something. Find out what that need is. Does it need something crunchy for mouthfeel? Are you in need of protein? Go from there first, and then make sure your snacks are as close to whole foods as possible. If you’re hungry for a full meal, focus on getting that in. Always listen to your body!
2. What are the basic healthy snacks everyone should know?
- Nuts: almonds, cashews and walnuts (raw) are my favorites.
- For quick protein: hard-boiled eggs.
- If you’re craving something sweet: rice cakes with almond butter and banana.
- And post-workout snacks: a shake or smoothie with plenty of high-quality protein and limited sugar.
3. How to read a Nutritional Facts label
Look for no added sugars first. Then make sure there is a good ratio of carbohydrate-to-fiber. For every 10 grams of carb, there should be at least 1 gram of fiber. Third, look for foods that have a limited list of ingredients. Choose whole food ingredients whenever you can without added preservatives, salt or sugar. If you’re looking for something canned, like tomatoes or broth, look for those that don’t contain added salt. Better yet, make your own or use fresh produce whenever you can. Lastly, and this isn’t found on any label … COLOR! Look for whole foods that are colorful, as they’re more likely to be packed with natural vitamins and minerals.
4. Stop counting calories
Don’t focus on calories; focus on colors and flavors. If I’m having a snack, I focus on something like raw nuts, a hard-boiled or scrambled egg, or a smaller portion of what I’d normally have as a full meal (something with protein, greens, veggies and plenty of color). Since everyone is different, what I would eat for a snack might be higher or lower than what you would eat in terms of calories. It’s best to make sure you’re taking your own energy needs into consideration based on your body type, fitness regimen and health goals. A snack for me might be some natural yogurt and fresh berries, or it could be a scoop of natural peanut butter … I’ve definitely been known to carry a jar around.
5. Pass on the store-bought energy bars
Try to favor whole foods whenever possible. If you’re someone who is constantly on the go and needs something you can take and walk around with or eat on your way in to work, I would actually make some DIY granola bars using ingredients like oats, nuts, seeds, coconut oil, some dates or honey to sweeten, and a touch of sea salt. You can bake them or leave them raw, and they’re so easy to take on the go.
6. Opt for plain yogurt
Yogurt is a great option for everyone since it’s high in probiotics — which our guts thrive off of. I tend to favor an all natural (plain), full-fat yogurt. Go with dairy-free if you can’t tolerate dairy. My go-to would be a plain whole milk or Greek yogurt. Look at the nutrition label to make sure it contains probiotics and doesn’t have any added sugars in it. For those who can ultimately stomach yogurt I see it as very beneficial … For those who are lactose intolerant, obviously, this is a different situation. Just listen to your body.
7. There's nothing wrong with a bit of chocolate
I am a fan of super dark chocolate in moderation — sometimes it’s the only thing that can hit your cravings. I go for up to 100% dark chocolate, and might have a square or two after dinner. Make sure to buy a good quality chocolate if you’re also planning to bake with it. Dark chocolate is even great in certain chili dishes.
8. Is there a snack that hasn’t made it to America and really should?
Being Australian, I have to support my country even when it comes to snacking! As more people become aware of our cuisine, people have either learned to love or absolutely despise Vegemite. I am big fan of avocado and a little Vegemite on a brown rice cracker. Make sure an Australian serves up (or at least witnesses) your first experience with it. In Israel, they have these stuffed figs with labne (a strained yogurt), pistachios and honey. All sorts of yum, I’d love to see that make its way over here too.
9. How to throw together a “snack lunch” at work
I would say first if you can get in some high-quality protein and a healthy fat, that’s super important. Otherwise your lunch just won’t fill you up! Look for things like hard boiled eggs, avocado and whole grain bread. If you also have access to high-quality dairy or meat, all the better.
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CHURCHILL'S SNACKING SUPERLATIVES
10. The best fruit to snack on: Fresh berries are a great option, or stone fruit. They contain plenty of antioxidants which are great for your health and are a slow release energy food. Plus — they taste awesome.
11. The best snack for building muscle: Something with a complex carb is good for pre-workout, like a piece of fresh fruit or an energy bite with some nuts and seeds. I often go with a banana if I know I’m going to be sweating. Post-workout, you’re looking for both bit of protein and again some complex carbs, such as a couple hard-boiled eggs, a veggie scramble or a baked egg muffin. Protein will help repair the muscles that you’ve worked during your training.
12. The best snack for your heart health: A handful of raw almonds or cashews are great, as they contain heart healthy fats that help prevent a rise in bad cholesterol.
13. The best snack to have before bed: I don’t tend to snack much right before bed, but if I’m craving something sweet, I’ll have a square of dark chocolate or yogurt with peanut butter. Research has shown that a snack containing a bit of fat eaten before bed (if you find yourself hungry) can be beneficial for metabolism and will also naturally help with satiation. So something like a few raw nuts, a piece of chocolate or a spoonful of nut butter are great options.
14. The most underrated snack: I would say the most underrated snack is one you can make yourself, rather than buy. I love making energy bites (which you can find on my site), granola or a chia pudding, which I can take spoonfuls of throughout the week for a quick and energizing snack.
15. The most overrated snack: I think processed snacks are overrated, personally. Anything with 100 ingredients that you could easily make much better and tastier yourself, just avoid.
BONUS: If you could only snack on one thing for the rest of your life? I have a problem when it comes to cashews … they are crunchy and the more you chew, the sweeter they become. So it would definitely have to be them!
Ok, time to try cooking your next snack instead of pressing E5 on the vending machine. Each of Dan's egg muffin bites is packed with antioxidants, B-vitamins, healthy fats, minerals and up to 18 grams of protein. Pair them with a shake after your workout.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Cost per serving: <$5
Skill level: Easy
12 large eggs
1/4 cup coconut milk
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp oregano (dried)
1/2 cup chopped roasted eggplant
1/4 cup chopped caramelized onion
1/4 cup chopped sautéed mushrooms
^ You can sub for up to 1 cup of any veggies of your choice!
1 large tomato, cut into about 6 wedges
1. Preheat oven to 400 F/205 C.Grease a 6-muffin tin with a bit of olive oil and/or line with parchment paper squares that have been scrunched up to fit in the tins one at a time. You can also make these smaller and make 12 muffins.
2. Whisk together your eggs, veggies, coconut milk, and seasonings.
3. Fill the muffin cups one at a time with your mix. Top with a slice of tomato.
4. Crack an additional egg on top of each muffin if you like.
5. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden and crispy around the edges.
Main image via Dan Churchill/Instagram
Inlines via danchurchill.com