How to Snack Better During the Pandemic

By Anne Palumbo

bananaWhat do potato chips, pretzels and popcorn have in common? You may have guessed: They’ve been flying off the shelves during the coronavirus pandemic.

Same for cookies, candy and other indulgences during this stressful time.

Snack food consumption has increased by over 8% since lockdown, which is more than during the Great Recession, between 2008 and 2010, where snack food consumption increased by only 1%.

Unfortunately, all this snacking has resulted in snugger waistbands for many, with an average weight gain of seven pounds, according to new data from a COVID-19 symptom study.

On the bright side, however, and because of our move toward healthier eating in recent years, many of us are bypassing highly processed, empty calorie snacks for more nutritious snacks. So the issue is not the snack as much as it is the constant craving for the snack.

I can relate. After working at my desk for hours on end, my mind starts to wander … to the just-baked granola bars whose scent has made a beeline for my nose … or to the creamy hummus with my name etched in the top … or to the popcorn laced with soy sauce and Parmesan cheese. Feet don’t fail me now!

Unquestionably, being homebound can turn snacking into a full-fledged pastime; and, if you’ve got kids at home, well, that pastime can become a battleground.

But it doesn’t have to be. When eaten in moderation, good-for-you snacks can help manage hunger, boost nutrition, and even foster togetherness time for those living under the same roof.

Let’s take a look at six ways to snack better during the pandemic:

Prep and plan snacks ahead of time

They say not to grocery shop on an empty stomach and the same holds true for snacking: Know what’s in your snacking future and you’ll be less likely to overindulge or land on something unhealthy. Game for some fruits and veggies? Then take time the night before or in the early morning to wash and cut up your produce. After, place everything at eye level in the fridge so it’s the first thing you reach for. Do the same for other healthy snacks, such as dips, smoothies, roll-ups, hard-boiled eggs, and more. Be sure to enlist help — from snack suggestions to prep, assembly to serving.

Don’t multitask while snacking

Snacking straight out of the bag while watching TV or working at your computer can lead to overeating and weight gain. Distraction and not really thinking about what you’re consuming can do that. When you’re ready to snack, eliminate distractions (screens, social media, texting), sit down, and focus on your snack. Chew slowly, savor every bite, appreciate textures and tune into your hunger-fullness scale. According to a recent study, people who ate a meal in 22 minutes consumed 88 fewer calories and felt less hungry than those who cleaned their plates in nine minutes.

Set snack times

The urge to graze is understandable these days, now that COVID-19 has upended our schedules and routines. Feeling adrift and uncertain, many of us have found ourselves reaching for snacks at all hours, with restless kiddos being particularly vulnerable. Establishing structure around snacks by setting specific times has numerous advantages, according to health experts. It establishes an expected routine and gives us purpose; it helps us feel more in control; and it reins in the urge to constantly nibble. A good rule of thumb is to snack (or provide snacks) a few hours after one meal ends and about one to two hours before the next meal begins.

Make healthy swaps

It’s easy and fun to come up with healthier versions of your favorite indulgences. Call a family powwow, list your most popular snacks, and assess their integrity. Too sugary? Too salty? Too high-fat? Too devoid of any nutrients whatsoever? Highlight the ones that don’t make the healthy cut and consider alternatives. Suggestions: If you have a sweet tooth, choose fresh or dried fruit over candy, homemade banana ice cream or smoothies over ice cream, and healthy granola bars instead of cookies. If you have a salty tooth, reach for popcorn over chips, nuts over crackers, and meat roll-ups instead of beef jerky.

Practice portion control

Remember, size matters, especially when it comes to snacks, including healthy ones. Controlling your portion can help you enjoy between-meal bites without spoiling your appetite for lunch or dinner. A few portion-control tips: Place snacks on smaller plates; brighten up where you snack (research from Cornell University found that subjects who dined in a darker room consumed 36% more food and were less accurate in estimating how much they consumed than those who ate in a bright room); and don’t give healthy foods — i.e., avocado, granola, smoothies, whole grains — a  free pass just because they’re nutrient-rich. Their calories can add up, too.

HummusCreamy White Bean Hummus

1-2 garlic cloves

1 can cannellini beans (15 oz), drained and rinsed

2 tablespoons tahini

2 tablespoons olive oil

juice of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon water (more, if seems thick)

1 teaspoon cumin

½ teaspoon coriander

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon coarse black pepper

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

Place garlic in food processor and pulse until minced. Add remaining ingredients and process until well blended. Serve with cut-up veggies.

Bump up healthy snacks with protein and good-for-you fats

Ever eat a pretzel or cracker and feel hungry shortly after? Snacking on carbohydrate-based snacks can have that affect — even snacks made with fiber-rich whole grains. Same with celery, carrots, apples and bananas. While their dietary fiber certainly helps us feel fuller longer, the feeling doesn’t last forever.

An excellent way to prolong the “fullness factor,” say nutritionists, is to pair your healthy snack with protein or good-for-you fats — two nutrients that take longer to digest. Some popular snack pairings: whole-grain toast with mashed avocado, veggies dipped in hummus or Greek yogurt ranch dip, popcorn sprinkled with grated cheese, or a scoop of peanut butter spread over a lengthwise-sliced banana.

Lastly, the internet is loaded with healthy snack recipes. From roasted chickpeas to baked sweet potato chips, fruit roll-ups to applesauce muffins, the recipes are yours for the trying.

Here in our household, we aim to try something new every week. Not only does it give us something to do, but it encourages meaningful time together in our favorite area of the house: the kitchen!

Greek Yogurt Ranch Dressing

1 cup plain non-fat Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice or rice vinegar

3/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon dried dill or chives

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon coarse black pepper

milk or water, as needed to achieve desired consistency

In a medium bowl, stir together all the ingredients. Add milk or water by the tablespoon until desired consistency is reached.

GranolaBaked Granola Bars

2 ½ cups rolled oats (not quick or instant)

2 tablespoons brown sugar

¼ cup flaked sweetened coconut

1 cup (total) of “extras”—chopped nuts, dried cranberries, chocolate chips

3 tablespoons canola oil

¼ cup honey

1 teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a 9” x 9” square pan with 2 crisscross sheets of parchment paper (not foil), leaving extra overhang on all sides.

Combine oats, brown sugar, coconut and extras in a large bowl. Whisk together oil, honey, cinnamon, salt and vanilla in a small bowl. Add honey mixture to oat mixture and mix thoroughly. Spread in prepared baking pan, pressing down firmly with the back of a spatula.

Bake for 30 minutes; cool in pan for about an hour. Using parchment handles, remove from pan and cut into bars.

Ready-in-Minutes Banana Ice Cream

3-4 bananas, peeled, frozen, broken into chunks

½ cup coconut milk (lite or regular)

1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup (optional)

1 teaspoon vanilla

Put the frozen bananas, coconut milk (shake can before opening), honey (or maple syrup) and vanilla into a blender and blend, starting at low speed and working your way up gradually to high speed until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Do not over blend (otherwise the friction will melt your ice cream).

Serve immediately as soft serve, or transfer to an airtight container and freeze for a few hours for firmer ice cream.