With our over-filled days and overwhelmed minds, healthy eating can be easily pushed aside by convenient packaging and copious restaurants.

Healthy snacking can be especially challenging but with a little planning ahead it isn’t as daunting as you may think. Put down that Snickers bar and read on as Shannon Schaack, RD, LN, at Vermillion Hy-Vee and Elizabeth Volzke, RD, LN at Yankton Hy-Vee give their suggestions to improve your snacking habits.

Volzke suggests aiming for a snack around 200 calories and diabetics should stick to 15g carbohydrates, making sure they include some protein with that snack such as an apple and a quarter cup of nuts or cheese and Triscuits or Wheat Thins.

“Snacks are a part of everyday life,” she states.

Schaack adds that snacks are helpful to fill in nutritional gaps. If you need more fruits or vegetables in your diet, eat them as a snack to assure you are getting the nutrients your body is missing.

Though it gives me some comfort knowing that snacking is not a bad thing, I am sure many of my favorite snacks do not quite make their top ten lists.

Volzke’s favorite portable snack is LARA bars. “These are great because they are low in sugar and high in fiber and made from whole/natural ingredients so great for kids and adults,” she explains.

LARA bars are also Schaack’s favorite bar. “I love that they are made with simple ingredients like dried fruit and nuts. My favorite flavor is peanut butter cookie which contains just peanuts, dates, and sea salt.

They taste great and keep me full until my next meal.”

Other popular bars noted were KIND, RXBAR, and Go Macro which all provide a mix of carbohydrates, fat, and protein.

Schaack suggests trail mix to satisfy those sweet and salty cravings, noting that it’s easy to make by combining an assortment of nuts, dried fruit and even a few dark chocolate chips if desired. She warns not to over-indulge though, typically a ¼ cup is considered a portion size. She also suggests portable fruit such as apples, oranges, pears and bananas.

For portability, Volzke suggests individual cups or packages of unsweetened applesauce, string cheese, and 100-calorie pack almonds. The trick to keeping your snack healthy is to portion out the serving size according to the suggestion on the box. Ziploc baggies are available in a small snack size to help control portion sizes.

Don’t forget the veggies. Schaack admits that they are “not as easy to grab as fruits because they do require a little bit of preparation, but baby carrots, celery sticks, and cauliflower/broccoli florets stored in sandwich baggies are great snacking veggies.”

Volzke’s list also includes whole fruits and vegetables, Greek yogurt and air-popped popcorn such as Skinny Pop.

Feeding little mouths

Though you never know when a snack attack might strike your child, don’t let a lack of preparation spoil their mood or their appetite. Volzke recommends combining convenience and health with unsweetened squeezable applesauce, string cheeses, cereals lower in sugar like Kix, Wheat Chex, Life or multi-grain Cheerios. Other favorites are nuts, Greek yogurt and the old stand-by of fruits and veggies. Volzke suggests freezing your grapes for a yummy cold treat.

Schaack also has many suggestions for little ones: apples with almond butter, baby carrots and bell pepper strips dipped in hummus, squeezable applesauce packets (choose unsweetened to reduce added sugar), whole grain crackers and cheese slices, Siggi’s yogurt tubes and celery with peanut butter, adding raisins to make “ants on a log.” Fruit smoothies are a hit with children; she explains that you can blend your own mix of fruit, yogurt, and liquid, even adding a handful of spinach as you blend for a serving of veggies that goes undetected! Volzke adds to make sure your child is at least 2 years old before you give them honey and suggests waiting until a child is closer to age 3 before offering peanut butter because it has an extremely sticky texture that is actually a choking hazard. Also, try to avoid juice, even if 100%; a child should not have more than 4 oz. of juice daily up to the age of six. Remember – 4 oz. equals 1/2 cup.

Need a protein boost?

If you are looking for a snack higher in protein, Schaack suggests string cheese and hard-boiled eggs, each containing 7 grams of protein. Edamame, or green soybeans, contain 11 grams of protein in a ½ cup serving without pods. You can find these in pods or without pods in the freezer section.

Greek yogurt is another suggestion given by both Schaack and Volzke. Greek yogurt has around 14-18 grams of protein in a serving, nearly double the protein and less sugar than regular yogurt. Both women suggest choosing plain Greek yogurt and adding your own fruit or 1 tsp. of honey for flavor.

Jerky is another option, containing 7 to 9 grams of protein depending on the serving size. Schaack suggests brands such as Epic, Organic Prairie, Krave and Tanka, which have less preservatives and lower sodium than most other brands of jerky.

Volzke includes nuts such as almonds and walnuts, Hy-Vee Protein granola bars, Think Thin & Cliff protein bars. She also suggests individual containers of FairLife milk, which have half the sugar, more calcium and twice the protein of regular milk.

Going gluten-free?

Those who adhere to a gluten-free diet do not have to look too far to find choices that fit within their dietary guidelines. Volzke notes that Charity, Yankton’s HealthMarket Manager, does a great job at noting the items that are gluten free and Yankton’s Health Market has even dedicated an entire aisle to gluten-free products.

Schaack explains that fruits and vegetables are gluten free. Other gluten-free snack options are bars such as Kind Bars, Lara Bars, GoMacro and RXBAR, nuts and seeds, Blue Diamond Nut Thins Crackers with hummus and many of the items previously listed (except for the cereals) are gluten free. Going glutenfree doesn’t mean letting your taste buds get bored!

What’s in a name?

Veggies chips and veggie straws…they sound healthy so they are, aren’t they? How about crackers that are “made with whole wheat?” This surely sounds healthy. Not so much, it turns out. As Volzke explains, read the label and be sure that the first ingredient for bread and crackers is WHOLE and it doesn’t have to be wheat – can be whole barley, whole rye, whole corn, whole oatmeal. And just because a food has the word “veggie” in it doesn’t mean that it’s healthy for you. Veggie chips are really nothing more than a glorified potato chip.

Schaack warns that if you see “made with real fruit” or “100% vitamin C” it’s not what you might think. If you see this labeling on fruit snack products you may think they are healthy, but the ingredients list shows nothing more than a bit of fruit and artificial flavors and colors. For an alternative, she suggests the “Pressed by KIND” bar, which is similar to fruit leather but softer and made of only fruits, vegetables and chia seeds.

If you’re looking for a salty snack, Volzke suggests dried SnapPea Crisps, Beanitos chips or Tostitos Black Bean chips. I previously attended a class where these healthier food alternatives were displayed and we sampled some of these items. I was surprised at how delicious these foods were!

If you’re like me and have a sweet tooth, you’ve probably heard that dark chocolate is good for you. “Not all dark chocolate is created equal,” states Volzke, explaining to “find a chocolate that is at least 60% dark chocolate.” She suggests Zoet brand. With the higher chocolate content, you’ll find more fiber and antioxidants.

Plan for success!

Schaack stresses the importance of preparation when it comes to healthy snacking. “I try to take time each weekend to prepare snacks for the week ahead. I cut up fruits and vegetables like pineapple, carrots, and broccoli and wash up grapes. I also make some kind of granola or protein bar and individually wrap them. It takes an hour or so but I have healthy options on hand for the whole week.” Just a few simple steps can help you in your healthy snacking success.

Volzke likes to cook a large quantity of meat at one sitting that she can season differently and use for several meals throughout the next 10 days. For example, ground beef could be used for tacos, spaghetti, hamburgers, stuffed peppers or any type of hot dish. Chicken can be turned into fajitas, chicken alfredo, a salad topper or anything Mediterranean. Since September is upon us, Volzke suggests taking advantage of Hy-Vee’s shortcuts from chopped up fruits and veggies to already prepared salads and side dishes in an effort to eat more meals together as a family since September is National Family Meal Month. I don’t know about you, but my stomach’s grumbling, time to grab a healthy snack!