How to Build Balanced Snacks + 40 Snack Ideas from a Dietitian
Balanced snacks can help you manage cravings and improve energy. Learn how to build a balanced snack and get 40 healthy snack ideas to add to your grocery list today.
If you find yourself reaching for snacks all afternoon, that might be because your snacks aren’t well balanced.
Snacks get a bad rap because traditional snack foods don’t offer a lot nutritionally, and are designed to….keep you snacking! But snacks can actually be a great opportunity to help boost energy, add nutrients to your day, control cravings, and keep you from overeating at meals.
Building balanced snacks is easy if you have the right ingredients. Read on for how to put together a balanced snack plus 40 sweet and savory healthy snack ideas to add to try right now.
The Formula for Balanced Snacks
Balanced snacks have an important job—to keep your blood sugar stable when there’s a long time (more than 3-4 hours) between meals. When you do this, you’ll have more consistent energy throughout the day, fewer cravings, and feel more in control of your food choices.
To balance blood sugar, we look for three important components: fiber-rich carbohydrates, protein, and fat. For snacks, aim to have at least two of those three components. Any of these components on their own may be enough to fill you up for a short time (under an hour), but work better when paired together.
Bonus if you can get all three!
The last (and equally as important) part of building a balanced snack is flavor. Don’t forget to include foods that you enjoy and make your snack taste great. This makes it much more satisfying.
Fiber-rich carbs to add to your snack
Fiber slows down digestion of carbohydrates, which helps keep you full longer. It’s found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans. Nuts and seeds also have some fiber.
Fiber-rich carb ideas to add to help build a balanced snack:
- Whole grain crackers
- Whole grain bread
- Whole grain cereal
- Potatoes (sweet or white)
- Fruit like berries, apples, pears, peaches, cherries, oranges, or kiwi
- Dried beans like broad beans, chickpeas, and edamame or snacks made from beans
- Chia seeds
- Dried figs, prunes, or apricots
- Snap peas, cut bell peppers, or carrots
Protein ideas to build a balanced snack
Protein is the most filling macronutrient because it takes a lot of time and energy to digest. That’s why it can be helpful to add protein to your snack to keep you full.
However, in the wellness word, there’s a big obsession with protein. Protein alone is not enough to fill you up and keep your blood sugar stable—you want to pair protein foods with either a fiber-rich carb or some fat (or both) to get the most out of your snack.
Protein-rich foods to add to your snack:
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Cottage cheese
- Greek yogurt
- Canned tuna
- Canned beans
- Dried beans like chickpeas, broad beans, or edamame
- Cubed tofu
- Nitrate-free beef or turkey jerky
- String cheese
- Cheddar cheese
- Parm crisps (dehydrated parmesan cheese)
- Hemp seeds
- Smoked salmon
Healthy fat ideas for balanced snacks
Fat is the most slowly digested macronutrient, which means that it raises your blood sugar the least, and can give you sustained energy. It also adds texture and flavor to your food, making your snack so much more satisfying.
Because fat has more calories per gram than carbs and protein, dieters often go for low-fat options. But skipping the fat just leaves you feeling less satisfied and hungry sooner. So, don’t fear fat!
Plant-based fats are linked to positive health outcomes like better blood sugar, lower cholesterol, improved cognition, and reduced risk of many diseases. That’s why they’re often referred to as “healthy” fats. Prioritize these, but any source of fat can help fill you up.
Fats to include in your snack:
- Nuts like almonds, walnuts, pistachios, peanuts, or cashews
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Full-fat Greek yogurt or cottage cheese (also contains protein)
- Avocado or guacamole
- Nut butter (peanut, almond, cashew, mixed)
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
Don’t forget the satisfaction factor
Building a balanced snack that fills you up and keeps you from snacking all day and night is not only about including the right mix of nutrients, but also about choosing flavorful foods that you enjoy.
Sometimes this might mean adding in something a little extra like chocolate chips in a trail mix, tortilla chips with your guac, or some honey in your yogurt. Don’t be afraid to add flavor if it means that you’re more satisfied.
Are lower calorie snacks better?
With grocery stores full of 100-calorie packs and diets telling you to cut calories, you may think that lower calorie is healthier. While sometimes that may be true, often, that’s not the case—in fact, quite the opposite!
Low calorie snacks are often just one macronutrient (only carbs or only protein) and don’t actually contain enough calories to fill you up. You eat it and are hungry 30 minutes or an hour later—and reaching for yet another snack.
This leads to a cycle of snacking, and is one of the top reasons that people can’t stop snacking.
Instead of focusing so much on calories, focus on balancing your snacks with what we discussed above, and tune into your own hunger and fullness cues to learn how much your body needs at snack time.
Easy, Healthy, Balanced Snack Ideas
We’ve rounded up some of our top snacks that you can make yourself or buy pre-packaged and ready-to-eat. Add these snack ideas to your grocery list for convenient snacking at home or on-the-go.
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- Whole grain crackers (such as Mary’s Gone Super Seed Crackers) with cheese
- Avocado toast on whole wheat or sprouted grain bread with a squeeze of lime and sea salt
- Roasted chickpeas (such as Bienna or The Good Bean)
- Roasted broad beans (such as Bada Bean Bada Boom)
- Parm Crisps with sliced apple
- Dried edamame (such as The Only Bean)
- Savory trail mix: popcorn with walnuts, and cheerios
- Crackers with avocado and smoked salmon
- Guacamole with carrots and tortilla chips
- Hippeas chickpea puffs
- Harvest Snaps Snap Peas
- Beet chips with hummus
- Toasted whole grain pita with hummus and tzatziki
- Mezze plate with cheese, olives, hummus, and cut veggies
- Sargento Balanced Breaks
- Hard boiled egg with fruit
- Leftover roasted vegetables with dip and olives
- Cooked edamame with salt and mixed cut veggies
- Nitrate-free beef or turkey jerky (such as Chomps) with sliced pear
- Mixed bean salad with cucumbers, tomatoes, and feta
- Off the Eaten Path Veggie Crisps with hummus
- Orange slices with string cheese
- Energy bars: RX bars, Perfect Bars, 88 Acres Bars, Larabars, CORE bars, KIND bars, Pickybars
- Chia pudding with raspberries
- Greek yogurt with blueberries and granola (such as Purely Elizabeth)
- Apple, banana, or pear with nut butter
- Roasted pumpkin seeds (like Dark Chocolate Superseedz) with dried figs
- Dates stuffed with peanut butter and chocolate chips
- Trailmix: nuts, dried fruit, and chocolate chips
- Energy balls
- Oatmeal peanut butter breakfast cookies
- Half a cantaloupe filled with cottage cheese or Greek yogurt and honey
- Graham crackers with peanut butter and raspberries
- High protein smoothie like this Cherry Vanilla Smoothie or Banana Bread Chickpea Smoothie
- Peanut butter stuffed pretzels with blueberries
- Baked sweet potato wedges with a drizzle of peanut butter
- Cinnamon sugar walnuts with dried cranberries
- Raspberries and dark chocolate covered almonds
- Grapes with cheddar cheese and almonds
When it comes to balanced snacking, the possibilities really are endless. Try different combos and find what works for you.
And if you’ve balanced your snacks, but still can’t stop snacking, you may want to look at the rest of your day to see what could be causing this.