Ask the Dietitian: Are snacks healthy?

Snacks can be some of our greatest allies, but they can also be the source of our undoing. My rule for snacking is as follows:

Snacking is healthy, so long as you don’t eat “snack foods”.

We all know that chips, candy, and sodas are unhealthy choices, but my principle also applies to “healthy” diet snack products. While a 100 calorie pack of cookies may only do 100 calories worth of damage, there is absolutely nothing nourishing or healthy inside of that package.


During my early foray into “healthy eating” (and before my nutrition education took off) you would find my dorm room well stocked with 100 calorie packs of peppermint patty bars. (Side note- an actual Peppermint Patty only has 70 calories. Thus is the twisted logic of the food industry). I used to jokingly refer to these snacks as “700 calorie packs”, because you had to use every bit of willpower not to devour the entire tasty box. But I digress…

Snack foods on the market today are pure junk. Desserts in disguise. Salty, fatty treats carefully engineered to keep you coming back for more. A few foods warrant careful consideration, such as Greek yogurt and granola, but one must remember that even these “health foods” are littered with excess sugar. So what are you to snack on if not “snack foods”? Nature’s original snack foods- fruits and vegetables!

Healthy snacks

For more healthy snack ideas, see this post

I know, I know. It gets tiring hearing the same old song and dance about nature’s bounty. But come on… you can’t be that sick of them. As a nation, we hardly even eat any! Fresh, in season fruits are so delicious, that they hardly need any accompaniment. However, vegetables can be a tougher sell. Pair them with homemade hummus or 100% nut butter to boost the nutrition content, and add that fatty mouthfeel that we all crave. Or, if you’re a weirdo like me, oven roast some veggies and call that a snack. There is hardly a salty craving that a warm, crispy, oven roasted Brussels sprout can’t cure. At least in my opinion.

Occasionally (0kay, pretty frequently), I will relent, and a few Chocolate Peppermint Stick Luna Bars or organic Greek yogurt cups will make their way into my grocery cart. But I make a solid effort to enjoy my Luna Bars how anything called “Chocolate Peppermint Stick” should be enjoyed: with an ice cold glass of milk (fat free and organic, nonetheless) and on a dessert plate. Not to mention, a Luna Bar is hardly a Hostess Cupcake. But the principle remains.

The main problem I have with snacking is that it never ends. As Marion Nestle so accurately explains, “it is now socially acceptable to eat more food, more often, in more places…These are recent changes… just since the 1980’s—exactly in parallel with rising rates of obesity” (Nestle, 2006, p. 13). Snacking can indeed be healthy, so long as you pick something that nourishes you, rather than the processed garbage sold everywhere. But let’s bring back an old adage… don’t spoil your dinner! 🙂

– Kelly


5 Healthy Late Night Snack Ideas

1. Banana chocolate “ice cream”

banana ice cream

1 Frozen banana + 2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder. This simple snack requires a bit of muscle (frozen banana chunks don’t blend easily without liquid) but it really is quite simple. Just give it a strong stir between blends, and you’ll be enjoying a rich, chocolatey treat in a matter of minutes. And with no added sugars, it doesn’t get much healthier than this. Just fruit sprinkled with antioxidants.

2. Strawberries + Graham Crackers

Healthy Late night snacks

As soon as strawberry season rolls around, this becomes one of my favorite treats. I just slice up a cup of strawberries (about half of the carton) and then top with 1 crushed graham cracker. Think of it as a simplified version of strawberry pie with graham cracker crust.

3. Popcorn Brussels Sprouts

Healthy Late Night Snacks: Popcorn Brussels Sprouts

Former President and COO of McDonald’s wants to make brussels sprouts the new french fry at his new healthy venture, Lyfe Kitchen. I don’t blame him! When oven roasted until crispy, brussels sprouts have the satisfying salty bite of popcorn. I tossed 1 cup of frozen brussels sprouts in 1 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil and a generous amount of lemon pepper, then roasted at 425 F for 30 minutes (until crispy on the outside).  Other tasty seasonings to try would be Nature’s Seasoning or Nutritional Yeast.

4.  Popcorn

Smart Pop
Did you know that popcorn is actually a whole grain? It’s the movie theater butter that gives this fiber filled treat a bad rap. A bag of low fat popcorn is perfect for sharing with friends while watching late night chick flicks or ESPN. Smart Pop also comes in 100 calorie packs (both butter and kettle corn flavored). Prefer to do things yourself and avoid unknown additives? Here is a recipe (and video tutorial!) for how to make your own microwave popcorn using corn kernels and a brown paper bag.

5. Dessert oatmeal

Healthy Dessert Oatmeal

I use this 5 minute recipe to make chocolate oatmeal, and then I sprinkle some sliced almonds on top for added crunch. Oatmeal is an incredibly healthy choice, no matter what time of day, and sweetening oatmeal with a banana makes it more nutrient dense than sugar sweetened oatmeal.

– Kelly

5 Healthy Holiday Snacks

Did you enjoy my 12 days of Christmas fruit and veggie platters? For days when you don’t need an entire tray of holiday food, here are 5 healthy snack ideas. You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy them!


image via The Diva Dish


image via Little Nummies


image via Shop Lasoo

snowman dinner (2)

image via Nifty, Thrifty, & Thriving


image via Live Better America

For more Christmas food inspiration, check out my Christmas food board on Pinterest. Happy holidays!

– Kelly