Have you had a snack lately? If you have, you're not alone. On any given day, eighty-six percent of teenagers have had at least one snack, according to research from the United States Department of Agriculture. And while many people assume that snacking is a bad thing, I don't agree with that—smart snacks can be key to eating a healthy diet, particularly for vegetarians.
Here's why: Each time you choose a snack, it's an opportunity to round out your meals with the nutrients you may not be getting enough of. Snacks are also especially important for teenagers, who—between school, sports, afterschool jobs and more—have long, intense days to power through. Smart snacking can help keep you well fueled and feeling great.
So what equals a smart snack? I recommend looking for two things:
Produce, in other words, fruits and vegetables, are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, as well as fills-you-up fiber. Protein (foods like chickpeas, hummus, black beans, edamame, walnuts, almonds, peanut butter, and yogurt are good vegetarian sources) is important because it helps you feel satisfied and gives your snack staying power. You can also work in some healthy whole-grain based carbs (like whole-wheat crackers, brown rice cakes or popcorn) for some quick energy.
Here are some sweet (and savory) snacks that fit the criteria:
Apple + almond butter
Cucumber slices + whole wheat pita chips+ hummus
Baby carrots + string cheese
Ants on a log (celery stuffed with peanut butter and topped with raisins)
Dried cherries + walnuts
Blueberries + granola + yogurt
Banana strawberry smoothie (blend together 1/2 banana, frozen strawberries, yogurt and milk)
Of course, these are all snack options that you'd eat at home, or might take a little planning ahead to eat them on-the-go. If you're buying something out in the real world, try to follow the same produce + protein advice, and look for products that have "real food" ingredients and sound like they were made in a kitchen and not a chemistry lab.
The Smart Girl's Guide to Going Vegetarian includes a number of smart on-the-go snack options that you can pick up in your travels. One of the brands we mention is KIND Healthy Snacks. I particularly like the brand's KIND bars because they follow the produce + protein rule, are made mainly of recognizable ingredients like nuts and dried fruit, and they're easy to find in everyday places like Target and convenience stores.
The kind people at KIND have graciously offered to send one of our readers a free variety pack of bars. Here's what you need to do: Post in the comments below your favorite good-for-you (and really good tasting) veghead snack that helps keep you going during long days before 5:00 pm EST on Sunday, February 16th, 2014. We'll choose our favorite as the winner of the KIND bar variety pack (since KIND products are not all vegan, be sure to let us know if you are).
So, what's your favorite snack?