Oh boy…it’s 3am and you have the urge to snack. Working shifts, particularly evenings and nights, can be tough, and eating a healthy, regular diet can be tougher when your schedule is so out of whack. So what can you do about these hunger pangs without adding a pile of calories to your daily allotment?
First of all, although we were taught to eat three square meals per day, grazing—eating small amounts often—is actually healthier for your body. The trick is to be sure that you don’t overdo the grazing!
Second, when looking for snack foods, although the sugary stuff is often handy, it’s best to choose foods that have fat, fiber and protein. This will give your body fuel to stay on the go longer, unlike the sugary stuff, which often causes you to crash as soon as it has been metabolized.
If you’re looking for a little inspiration, here are some tips and low-calorie ideas that are meant to fill your stomach—not your scrubs.
1. Plan your snacks in advance. When shopping for groceries or planning your meals, keep your snack needs in mind. It’s when we don’t know what we want to eat and don’t have anything healthy on hand that we end up eating the foods from the “don’t” category.
2. Have a craving for chips? Pita chips are easy to make, store well in a sealed container and have a good bit of fiber if you choose the whole wheat or other types of grains. They provide a good crunch and can be used for dipping healthy stuff, too. Note that this is for the homemade chips, not the store-bought ones.
Pita Chip Recipe
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Combine ½ cup of olive oil with ½ tsp. black pepper, 1 tsp. ground garlic or garlic salt, ½ tsp. dried basil and 1 tsp. dried chervil (or any combination of herbs).
Take a package of pita pockets and cut them in quarters. A pair of clean scissors makes this job easy. Carefully separate the layers of bread in each quarter so you have a total of 8 triangles. Spread the triangles on a greased cookie sheet and brush with olive oil combo. Bake for about 7 minutes, but watch closely because they can burn quickly. When cool, store in Ziploc bags or sealed containers.
3. Want another easy and healthy chip snack? Have you considered kale chips? Seriously! They don’t taste like you’re eating vegetables at all.
Kale Chip Recipe
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Gather a bunch of kale leaves, remove the stems and tear the leaves into decent chip-size pieces. Combine ½ cup olive oil with some kosher salt or seasoned salt (not too much; use your judgment). Next, you can either spread the kale out on a cookie sheet and use a mister to spray the oil, or put the oil in a sealable plastic bag, add the kale, seal the bag and then squeeze the bag until all the kale is covered. Bake for about 10 minutes, but watch closely to prevent burning.
4. Trail mix is an easy snack that hikers and cross-country skiers use on a regular basis. The advantage is that the snack is compact and you don’t have to worry about it getting squished, as you may with chips. What you put in your trail mix is up to you! Try dried fruit, walnuts, almonds and granola. Be careful with this snack, however; the calories in dried fruit can add up, and some nuts are more fatty than others. Use your common sense and make sure this tasty snack doesn’t become a meal!
5. Do you have access to a fridge or cooler at work? If so, low-fat yogurt can be a great pick-me-up, particularly if you sprinkle it with bran or low-fat nuts. If you don’t drink a lot of milk or are concerned about your dairy intake, yogurt is a good source.
6. Have you thought of the old standby, peanut butter sandwiches? Here you do have to be a bit careful, because as healthy as peanut butter is, it can be fattening if you eat too much or the wrong brand that’s loaded with sugar. A reasonable amount of peanut butter from a low-sugar brand like Laura Scudder’s on a whole wheat or dark bread is an excellent source of protein and fiber.
7. Do you like to bake or know someone who does? Muffins can be made in a variety of flavors and styles. The important thing is to remember that muffins can also be very fattening, particularly those from some coffee shops and corner stores. Homemade muffins can be made with ingredients like applesauce instead of oil, honey instead of sugar, and so on.
Freeze some muffins and then grab one or two on your way out the door to snack on later. They’ll be thawed out and just as fresh as when you put them in the freezer when it’s time for a pick-me-up.
8. Are you looking for snacks that you can buy at the store on the way to work? Energy bars can be a good option. Be aware that not all energy bars are made alike, however, and some pack more fat and calories than energy-providing ingredients. When reading the labels, check for protein at about 15 or so grams, and no more than 250 calories at the most.
9. Did you know that part of the satisfaction of snacking is the crunching, and that’s why you often feel more satisfied after a noisy snack than a soft one? Baby carrots in small bags are a perfect size to tuck into your work bag, giving you something healthy and crunchy to snack on.
10. Look for something tasty to dip your fresh vegetables in besides store-bought high-fat dressing. Hummus is a healthy and tasty alternative, and comes in a variety of flavors including roasted garlic, eggplant and tomato basil.
What's your favorite healthy snack? Share in the comments section below.