Food

We asked a dietitian how to snack healthier this semester

What to eat — and avoid — at different times to help get the most out of your day.

What to eat — and avoid — at different times to help get the most out of your day

Let's talk about the necessity of a well-stocked snack cupboard when you're away at school. Meal hall is marvellous, but trust us when we say you're bound to miss breakfast sometimes on account of the snooze button, and you're destined to crave something salty or sweet during late-night work sessions. Easy-to-store, easy-to-pack healthy snacks are a must for maintaining a balanced diet and keeping your energy up. 

We reached out to Zannat Reza, a registered dietitian at thrive360 to get some insight on what to avoid and what to stock up on, given the different snacking-scenarios you'll encounter this semester. She suggests students steer clear of certain common snack foods because they "provide few nutrients and lots of extra calories". 

Her list of no-no's includes culprits such as: chips, chocolate, sports drinks, fried foods, cakes and other baked goods, like cookies, doughnuts and store-bought muffins. Instead, Reza says to "choose whole foods when possible, or buy things with the fewest ingredients because whole foods contain more nutrients than ultra-processed foods." She lists cheese, yogurt, nuts and roasted chickpeas as examples, as well as fruits and vegetables. 

On-the-go mornings: You're going to want a little something to get you through that early morning lecture. No time to sit down for cereal? Reza suggests a smoothie, or a whole grain cereal that's easy to snack on sans-milk. Alternatively, oatmeal is a great option, too, she says. You can grab it at lots of coffee chains, but it's also easy to microwave and take with you, and you'll save cash that way too. 

When it comes to caffeine, coffee pods, or a space-saving espresso maker are simple solutions. A latté is Reza's recommended source because of the "extra protein, calcium, and 13 other nutrients in [cow's] milk." As for milk alternatives, she advises opting for brands that contain added protein, since most varieties don't contain as much, naturally.  

Mid-morning slump: It's quite possible you'll find yourself with a growling stomach halfway through a three-hour lecture on something called Neoplatonism. We speak from experience. Reza suggests packing something with protein for situations like this. She says a handful of nuts, pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds and an apple, or a protein bar, are her go-to's. 

Late night library sesh: As we've mentioned before, you'll be much more productive when you aren't sleep-deprived. But, we also know that sometimes, late-night cram sessions are unavoidable. To help you stay alert and focused, Reza suggests opting for similar snacks you'd reach for in a mid-morning slump. It's another situation you want to power through, and even though a bag of chips or a chocolate bar seem super-tempting, they have few nutrients — so opting for something with protein is your best bet. 

Heavy meals late at night might not be best either because they can disrupt your sleep as your body focuses its energy on digestion, says Reza. Brain-friendly foods for memory and concentration are also great for a study session. Her list includes: fatty fish like salmon (think of making a salmon sandwich, or mashed salmon on crackers), nuts, berries, leafy greens (such as kale chips), and eggs.

Post-workout: Reza's go-to? A classic peanut butter sandwich made with whole grain bread. It's budget-friendly, delicious and protein-packed. She says almond butter is fine too, it just might be a little more pricey. With any nut butter, all-natural is best because there's no added sugar or salt. She also suggests a smoothie, a piece of fruit with cheese, avocado with a boiled egg, or veggie sticks with hummus. 

When the cravings kick in: If you're stress-snacking during midterms, or just in need of something sweet after a long day, we get it. It's all about moderation, after all. Just watch the amount of sugar in your chosen 'treat'. Be sure to check the ingredients list and the nutritional label. Opt for foods with "less than 8 grams of sugar per serving," says Reza. This is a great rule of thumb for granola bars, which can contain high amounts of sugar. 

If you're craving something savoury, she suggests an old-school fave — popcorn. She adds that plain popcorn is best, but a small amount of butter with a sprinkle of salt, or even Parmesan are fine, too. 

Perhaps you've got someone with a car who's helping you make the move to campus. Now is the perfect time to stock up on snacks and more. Here's a list of staples healthy pantry items to shop for, even if you have a meal plan. And while an econo-sized pack of Pop Tarts is absolutely tempting, we've got some healthier alts for your day-to-day snacking. 

Here are some of our go-to's:

High in plant protein and fibre, these gently roasted chickpeas are a salty, savoury snack available in six different flavours and you can eat 'em by the handful when you're craving something with a crunch. 

The Good Bean Original Salted Chickpeas, $4.97, Walmart

Suggested by Reza, these bars are made with just 3 ingredients (dates, peanut butter and peanuts), contain 7 grams of protein and are great for late-night study sessions, or mid-morning slumps.

Larabar Gluten Free Peanut Butter Fruit and Nut Energy Bar, 5 pack, $7.49, Amazon

As Reza says, cheese is a great snacking option. If you don't want to cut off a couple slices from a whole block, these are very convenient. And since they're individually wrapped, you can very easily grab and go. 

Old Cheddar Armstrong Snack, 10 pack, $4.97, No Frills

This one comes recommended by Reza as well. Yogurt is one of those versatile go-to's that's super easy, and contains plenty of protein. Throw some fresh fruit or cereal on top if you've them, or you can even grab one of these individual containers and head out to class. 

Oikos Greek Yogurt, 4 pack, $2.79, Loblaws

As much as that strudel is screaming your name, it may not be the best breakfast. Instead, opt for a packable, snackable cereal that's easy to eat with your hands, such as Reza suggests.

Kellogg's Mini-Wheats Cereal, $5.97, Walmart

If you're a big nut butter fan, a spoonful of peanut butter absolutely constitutes a snack. But you can also slather some onto some bread for a post-workout snack, as Reza recommends. Or, eat with apples — because that kindergarten snack is a classic for a reason. 

Kraft Only Peanuts Smooth All Natural Peanut Butter, $4.67, Walmart

A flavourful alternative to fried potato chips, roasted lentils are crispy, salty and available in popular potato chip flavours, such as salt and vinegar. They're a high source of fibre, low in fat, vegan, gluten-free, nut-free and fibre-filled, and they're Canadian. 

Three Farmers Crunchy Little Lentils, $3.99, Well.ca (also available in snack-sized bags)

If you've got access to a microwave, popcorn is probably one of the simplest snacks you can make yourself. For long study sessions and Netflix nights alike, it's a savoury go-to that's also a whole grain. 

Whole Alternatives Organic Microwave Popcorn, $3.99, Well.ca

Now's the time to take advantage of your parents' Costco membership and stock up while they're still in town. This giant container of unsalted mixed nuts contains plenty of protein and fats to calm cravings and hunger pains mid-morning and beyond. Throw some in a reusable container and off you go. 

Kirkland Signature Unsalted Mixed Nuts, $24.49, Costco

OK there's nothing super exciting about a boiled egg... except for the fact that you don't have to boil or peel these! Plenty of protein and added Omega-3's make them an easy, healthy snack when hungry. 

Free Run Omega-3 Hard-Boiled Peeled Eggs, 3 packs of 2, $2.99, Loblaws

Stress-snacking is absolutely a thing. And instead of reaching for a chocolate bar, these are an excellent option when you're craving something sweet. Plus, they're high in potassium and fibre, and contain only two ingredients — coconut and dates.  

Natural Delights Coconut Date Rolls, $10.94, Amazon

A baked vegetable in such a satisfying form. Snack is literally part of its name, and it's available in lots of tasty flavours such as Wasabi and Mango Chile Lime. They're also gluten-free and a source of fibre.

Harvest Snaps Green Pea Snack Crisps, $2.47, Walmart

Falafels are a savoury, meat-free protein-packed option for snacktime. These herb-filled falafels from My Little Chickpea are also 100% vegan, gluten-free and free of any preservatives. They're a great option if you've got a freezer, but you can also keep them in the fridge for up to 10 days after being unthawed. 

Naked Chickpea Falafels, $6.95, Fresh City Farms

Canada's Food Guide also has some helpful tips for smart snacking. Being mindful when consuming — not while you're distracted by Netflix — is recommended. Refraining from snacking straight from the container can also help manage portion size. And, importantly, snacks are best for when you're actually hungry, says the guide. They can be easy to reach for when you're stressed out, but as the site suggests, try not to snack just because you're tired, bored, or emotional. These tips for time management can also help you on that front this year.

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