February 23, 2010

Let's Talk Snacks.

I think not.

It's Tuesday, the perfect day to talk about snacks. *Any* day is a good day to talk about snacks, but there's something about Tuesdays that just makes me all about the snackage.

I work nights. Working nights is unnatural, stressful, and makes you prone to weight gain. (Old joke: What's the difference between a night nurse and an elephant? About ten pounds.) It's also hard to eat a real meal when you work nights, as eating a real meal will make you want to fall asleep immediately thereafter, and there's always something going on you shouldn't sleep through.

Working nights also means you don't have a lot of appetite during the day, if you happen to be awake. I've developed a Theory Of Serious Snacking that has gotten me through two months of night shift without weight gain (in fact, I've lost another seven pounds or so), without nappitude, and without blowing my daily allotment of points or my patience.

The first thing to remember about snacking is that there are certain foods that will make you sleepy or bloated or just knock out your energy. For me, those are carbohydrates. In moderation, I can handle carbs; give me a meal composed mainly of them, though, and I'll be snoozing on the desk in no time.

The second thing to keep in mind is portion size. Snacks are meant to be consumed in small portions, frequently, to keep your blood sugar up and your metabolism off baseline. My own rule of thumb is that if it can be rolled up in a small corn tortilla, it is officially snack-sized.

And finally, what you want in a snack is contrast. You want something a little crunchy, a little savory, maybe a little sweet (though I don't have much of a sweet tooth). You could call a cup of mashed potatoes a snack, but it would be kind of unsatisfying unless you're eating it while standing in the kitchen in your bathrobe.

Sugar snap peas are my go-to crunchy thing. Alone, they're tasty. Dipped in some ranch dressing that was made with nonfat buttermilk, they're divine. Steamed, with a shake of rice vinegar, they're sort of Asian-influenced and can be eaten cold, as they keep their crunch nicely.

Carrot chips and sticks and slices are another good choice. Being a root vegetable, they contain enough carbohydrates to feed your brain without making it want to crash from dopamine overload. With peanut butter or without, they're surprisingly satisfying. If you want the sweetness of carrot but you can't stand carrot, try jicama slices. Jicama is that vegetable that looks like a turnip on steroids--it can be sliced and eaten raw, and it's nummy.

I often steam, then marinate, asparagus and green beans. You can find both in the freezer section in steambags. Both can be eaten cold, out-of-hand (after you drain the marinade off), and both will inspire envy and admiration in onlookers.

Baby corn and artichoke bottoms are another envy-inspiring combo. I prepare these by opening the cans and rinsing off the excess salt. Put in a plastic container with some thin strips of red or orange bell pepper, they're visually pleasing and surprisingly filling.

"Okay, fine," I hear you saying, "But what about the protein? Rabbit food won't keep me going through a long day of meetings and ferrying the dogs around to playdates and picking out paint at Walgetspotorama."

Depending on your Snack Situation, you can go one of two ways; Non-stinky or stinky protein. I snack around a forgiving bunch of folks, many of whom come from cultures where dried, then deep-fried, baby squid are considered a treat. You should try those, by the way--they're quite nice. Anyway...

Non-stinky protein choices include low-salt deli meats rolled up with a small amount of cheese, salted or unsalted nuts (watch that portion size, though), cheese sticks, yogurt, protein bars (ick yuck blargh ptooie), or a serving of a cereal like Kashi Go Lean. Any of those choices can be stuck into a plastic container and eaten with your fingers, except maybe the yogurt. Unless you like messy snacking.

Stinky protein involves things like tuna, drained and dressed with olive oil and a grinding of black pepper and a squirt of lemon juice. Yummy! It could also mean flaked salmon with a dollop of sour cream and some pepper. Or maybe you have some leftover deep-fried squid you're hankering after: if you work with me, I might try to bogart some. Peanut butter falls under the Stinky Protein category, primarily because of the prevalence of peanut allergies in the world. Be careful when eating peanut butter in company; you don't want somebody falling over with a reaction in the middle of your nosh.

The final category of Snackages is The No-Brainer Snack. Fruit is the perfect example: with the exception of things like pinapple and kiwi, it can be eaten out of hand, without preparation. It's sweet, it's filling, and it gives you a little boost of energy.

Crackers and other savories are also No-Brainers, but be watchful of fat and sodium content. Target has these house-brand multigrain crackers that are like crack to me, but I can only have a few. A few, though, is what a snack is all about. Check out your local ethnic grocery or World Market for things that are slightly off the beaten path, like Asian or Indian snacks. They can add a little spice--figuratively and literally--to your three a.m. or three p.m. nosh.

Granola bars and weird healthy cookies are good choices if you want something sweet. Just try to get the sort that contain enough protein (at least a couple of grams per serving) that you don't end up having a sugar crash halfway through little Murgatroyd's soccer practice.

I package everything in those little stash-sized bags with the zip tops, or in teeny little plastic containers I can throw in the dishwasher. And I haul a veritable smorgasbord of snackage to work with me every day. (The word smorgasbord reminds me: why not try tiny slices of good rye bread with tomato and dill? Or a little thinly-sliced roast beef rolled up with a smear of horseradish? Or some smoked herring? No? Okay.)

Basically, look at what you had for dinner. If you can imagine eating it cold, then it's a good snack candidate. Once you've gotten out of the mindset that snacks have to come prepackaged in a vending machine, the world opens up. You can eat healthier, without sugar dumps, and maybe--if you play it right--trade some of that rye bread with tomato for a couple of little squidlians.


  1. LOVE IT! What fabulous ideas for snackage! I tend to eat like that during the day to keep my metabolism ticking over but all while tryingt o stay in points allocation! thanks for the fab suggestions coz i do get a bit bored of eatignt he same thing all the time! splendid post!!! :)

  2. Dried baby squid that's been deep fried? Where would you even get such a thing?

    Great post :)

  3. I was the QUEEN of the STINKY SNACKS when I had an office job.

    I was outside with the smokers eating then Id dash inside and brush my teeth and only THEN could I rejoin polite society.

  4. Wow, some great ideas! Unfortunately, I have trouble thinking of vegetables as snacks unless the dip-to-veggie ratio is ridiculously high. (Thus the frequent green smoothies).

    If I can remember to boil some eggs, a hardboiled egg and a piece of fruit is a go-to quick snack; trail mix is tempting but I seem to have some serious portion control issues.

    Will have to try some of your suggestions!

  5. I love sugar snap peas as a snack or to add bulk to a meal! I still cannot believe what a good calorie value they are. Broccoli works well too for me.

  6. Oh, that picture in you post! Today is my fasting day (yeah, I am trying to have one ever so often) and then I see this! Mercy! Entire post on snacks I won't be having today. More mercy!
    But when tomorrow rolls in I am sure to implement some of the snacking ideas. Can't wait.

  7. mmm...thanks for the good snack ideas.
    Unhealthy snacks are usually where I quietly slip off the wagon and roll back down the hill. Mmmm...lots of great new ideas.

    I love pickled asparagus rolled up in a slice of ham with a bit of cream cheese.one roll=snack heaven. Try it...mmmm.....

  8. Thanks, Jo! I've been terrible at figuring out the afternoon snack. That crash just sends all brain function completely out the window. Going to take these and plan ahead.

  9. My favorites are fruit, almonds, hummus and pita chips, some peanut butter or almond butter on toast, and a piece of cheese. Anything more than that, and I consider it a meal. Even when I eat five or six small meals a day, I won’t call it a snack. That makes me think I can just eat nonstop. And I will.

  10. i always carry around an apple or banana with me. sometimes i'll try to mix it up- a person can only take so much of the same thing! haha :)

  11. Never heard the *old* joke. LMAO.

  12. What?!? You mean those mini-reeses pb cups aren't an ideal snack food?!? Gah!

    One of my favs - homemade dilly beans. I'm so looking forward to having my garden again this year. We've been rationing, but we're down to our last jar of dillies. Pickled carrots are also the num. And beets (but watch that evil red juice). And if you can keep your portions under control, zucchini relish and crackers are a hit. And all of those ('cept the crackers) are easily homegrown and home canned for pennies what you'd pay else where.

  13. Great ideas - love the marinated veggies...that would work well on days when we have receptions at work where the food is not diet-friendly. Thanks!!!

  14. Great post! Very important to keep yourself from getting too hungry. I bring the cottage cheese and fruit combos, cheese sticks, fruit, the store now has individual size peanut butter containers which are great with apples!


  15. The candy looks good...everything else can stay put.

    Actually I love carrots, so any excuse to eat them is fine for me. I don't really consider them a snack, but I guess they are sort of...

  16. Finally, a list of snacks that is not the same old stuff, and that is made of real food!

    Thanks for the great ideas, Jo.

  17. Good idea with steamed and marinated sugar snap peas and asparagus! .Sounds delicious!

  18. Nice post. I generally carry a green apple and raisins with me when I work long days. I also keep bananas and small pack of ritz cracker at my desk.

    Snacks are awesome if you make good choices!

  19. This is such a timely post! Thanks for this. I also work nights and it's taking a toll on my healthy eating. I try my best to eat healthy but I'm tired and without appetite most of the time. So I don't bother. After reading this, I kinda want to make an effort again.

  20. Snacking is the key to a successful diet. If you eat throughout the day, or night, you'll be less likely to overeat during meals.The list of snacks you gave is fantastic! My favorite snacks are low fat string cheese and apples.The combination is enough sweet and enough salty that I don't have to think twice about that snickers bar in the vending machine.


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