Whether it’s a weekday or a weekend-day, there comes a point in most of our days, usually around mid-to-late afternoon, when hunger, or at least the desire to eat something, comes calling. The ritual of the afternoon snack is typically our private affair- unlike lunch, you’re not meeting up with people and heading for a diner, the cafeteria or the park. You’re mainly on your own, and that means making your own decisions…no debate, or peer pressure, or guardian angels. Ideally you’ll choose a healthy snack, rather than giving in to temptation, which is an ongoing battle for most of us.
I’m guessing that most of you experienced, or are at least familiar with, the ritual of trading food in elementary school. If you were really good, you could trade an apple for a bag of Freetos, or a juice box for a Ding-Dong, or a sandwich that you didn’t really want for a Rice Krispie Treat. The trick of the game, in other words, was to trade whatever you didn’t want for junk food! After all, as a kid, junk food is the Holy Grail, especially if you don’t have it at home. As adults, meanwhile, we of course know better. But practicing what we preach, or even just living according to our common sense, is often easier said than done.
So then, back to the afternoon snack: choosing what to eat, something that’s healthy but also something we actually want, often presents a dilemma. If we’re at home, there are snack options that we may very well want, but should avoid. Chips are a great example: immediate, tasty and filling, they’re also addictive and offer no nutritional value. Granola bars seem like they would be a step up, but that’s rarely the case, as they’re often filled with refined sugars; an exception being healthy protein bars, which are harder to find. I myself am often tempted by cereal- nothing too devious, usually just some corn flakes or Cheerios; not terrible, but still– I could definitely do better.
As adults, the fact is that we feel much better about ourselves when we make wise food choices. Indulging in an exotic though thoroughly unhealthy delicacy – such as things that have been deep-fried, or doctored to a competitive level of spiciness – out at a restaurant with friends, may be exciting and adventurous in the moment, but we’ll harbor at least some regret later, when we’re home and we’re still feeling that food’s effects.
But when it comes to snacks, we’re talking low stakes, no pressure decision-making. When you reach for unprocessed foods, whether sweetened only with natural, unrefined sugars, such as dried or fresh fruit, and/or for unsweetened nuts or nut butters, or for a smaller portion of something you might have for lunch or dinner, such as cooked whole grains or legumes– you’re not only going to feel better about yourself for taking the healthy route, you’re also going to have much more energy than you would had you chosen more questionable options.
Here are some tips to keep in mind:
If you work in an office, you’re probably frequently tempted by goodies left out by co-workers, or by nearby vending machines or a stocked café. Make a decision ahead of time: tell yourself that you will not eat any unhealthy treats that are being offered, no matter what, unless you give yourself a caveat such as once a week, or ‘once a month, I’ll allow myself to have one thing’- but only that once. As long as you decide ahead of time that you will not be partaking in foods that don’t make healthy afternoon snacks, you’ll have a much better chance of keeping your promise. To avoid sabotaging yourself, be sure to bring healthy pieces of fruit, and perhaps some walnuts, almonds or cashews, along with a modest portion of your favorite dried fruit; or, perhaps even better, a side serving-sized portion of quinoa, lentils, or beans.
If you work at home or on the road, the same principles still apply: shop wisely, and decide that if you’re going to keep chips, granola bars or anything else that’s carb-heavy with minimal nutritional benefits around, that you’re only going to eat them for dessert or for special snacking occasions, ideally shared, so you don’t polish all the chips off by yourself, for example. The most important thing to recognize here is that when you choose wisely and reach for the healthiest options – ones which you’ve made the decision to keep available ahead of time – the feelings of confidence that go along with those choices will stay with you through the rest of the afternoon, into the evenings, and, taken over weeks, will leave you feeling healthier, more confident and self-assured, and inevitably will make you feel more in control of your life.
So then, when hunger calls at some point this afternoon, chose to trade up—choose to reach for the apple, not the Rice Krispie Treats.
Michael Shaw is a writer and blogger covering various health-related food trends. He writes about healthy pancake recipes, among many other unrefined flour and unrefined sugar foods, at his website, No Flour, No Sugar Diet.