Simple, Healthy Snacks for Work and School

By Darren Stehle

Coffee and a muffin can do more harm than good

The typical mid-day snack in North America can do more harm than good — coffee and a muffin, donut, cookie, scone, or a chocolate bar.

We tend to choose this type of food because our energy is falling and a coffee (stimulant) with a sweet (sugar) seems like the right choice to quickly boost energy levels.

When your energy drops after eating sugar-rich, highly-processed carbohydrates (often full of trans fatty acids and devoid of vitamins and minerals), you feel hungrier than before, you may overeat to quench your hunger and to increase blood sugar levels, and finally you might choose an unhealthy meal.

Eating a healthy, balanced, nutrient-dense snack mid-morning, mid-afternoon, and possibly before bed, will keep you energized and satisfied between meals.

Your insulin levels will be stable, you won’t feel tired or have trouble focusing, and you will have provided your body with the nutrients it needs to remain healthy.

Healthy Snacking in a Hurry

When you don’t have any healthy snacks for work prepared this can can be the quickest path to eating the wrong thing.

You can stay on track by grabbing some healthy alternatives at the food court (if you work in an office tower complex) when you get the munchies. Head down in the morning before work and get yourself a snack for the afternoon as well. If you don’t eat it, then you have it for the next day.

All of these snacks can be bought ahead of time (or made by hand) and brought with you to work. Many can be found at a better super-market or at a deli counter that prepares meals and salads.

What Snacks Are Best?

The following snacks can be made from scratch and brought with you to work. Most can be found at a better super-market or a deli counter that prepares meals and salads.

  • A piece of fruit with a small handful of nuts, e.g. an apple and 8-12 macadamias
  • A meal replacement protein shake or protein smoothie
  • 1-cup 2-4% cottage cheese with fruit (try it with pineapple, mango, some almonds or filberts)
  • 1-cup 2-4% cottage cheese with 1-2 tbsp. salsa and ¼-½ of an avocado (tastes like sour cream and salsa dip!)
  • Plain yogurt (preferably organic, whole milk and non-homogenized) with fruit and nuts
  • Hummus dip with veggies like carrot sticks, cucumber or celery. Optional 1-2 small whole-wheat pitas
  • Celery sticks with all-natural (preferably organic) peanut or almond butter
  • 1-2 hardboiled eggs (the whole egg — don’t discard the yolk) with cucumber, carrots or a fruit.

Alternatively you could eat a smaller, balanced meal (that looks like a lunch or dinner) for a snack consisting of lean protein, healthy fats, and vegetables. This will depend on your caloric and energy demands (perhaps a smaller portion of meat with vegetables), e.g.,

  • Half of a healthy sandwich with a side salad, some raw veggies or an apple (eat the other half in the afternoon or save it for the next day)
  • A prepared small salad with protein (chicken, fish, hard-boiled egg). If buying out, ask for plain olive oil and vinegar (or lemon juice). Avoid the individually packaged ‘creamy’ dressings like ranch or caesar. They’re filled with the wrong fats, sugar and unnecessary chemicals
  • Mini-tuna salad pre-made at home: 1 tbsp. olive oil, 1 tsp. organic apple-cider vinegar or fresh squeezed lemon (optional 1 tbsp olive oil mayo or whole milk yogurt), salt & pepper, mixed with cherry tomatoes and one large celery stalk, finely chopped.

Portion Sizes & Counting Calories

I’m not a fan of counting calories. That may be useful in certain circumstance (e.g. you’re diabetic), but for most of us it’s a nuisance.

What useful to be aware of (for weight management and healthy energy levels) is both the percentage ratios — when reading nutritional info on food packaging (the % macronutrient split between protein, carbohydrates and fats) — and visual ratios for portioning food onto your plate.

A healthy meal is balanced, meaning it consists of

  • a lean source of protein (chicken, turkey breast, tuna, salmon, pork loin, whey protein powder, etc.)
  • healthy fats (extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocado)
  • nutrient-dense carbohydrates, predominantly from vegetables and/or fruit
  • and potentially a starchy carbohydrate (quinoa, rice) at one or two of your meals, depending on your health and fitness goals.

The amount of fruit and grains you consume in a day will depend on your individual weight-loss goals and level of daily activity. The more sedentary you are, the less grains you should consume, if any at all.

If you are trying to lose body fat or maintain a healthy weight a 3:1 ratio of vegetables to fruit is my recommendation. You might even choose to limit fruit to 1-2 servings per day, and eating these earlier in the day.

Even the choice of plate size and colour can have a positive influence on healthy weight-loss.

A good rule of thumb if you don’t want to count calories (which can be misleading), is to use the size of your fist as a measure: one fist-sized portion of protein and two fist-sized portions of vegetables on your plate. One fist-sized portion of a starchy carb is optional.

Remove or Reduce

These are the foods that will make you gain unwanted body fat, crave sugars and mess with your health:

  • Unhealthy starchy carbs like muffins, pastas, cupcakes, white bread, white (quick) rice, white flour, granola, pre-packaged instant oatmeal or cereals (they are loaded with sugar), etc.
  • Processed foods, fast foods, chips, junk food, candy bars, deep-fried foods, margarine, edible oil products (like cool whip), granola bars, crackers, and all soft drinks.

If you have any processed foods like the above at home, and if you want to lose weight and feel better, throw them out. Alternatively, put them behind healthy foods in your pantry (where you won’t see them), and enjoy them once in a while as a cheat meal or desert.

The Healthy Bodyweight & Healthy Eating Solution

  1. Eat healthy, lean sources of protein like beef, turkey, chicken breast, pork tenderloin, fish, etc.
  2. Eat all types of vegetables.
  3. Eat all types of fruit.
  4. Eat a variety of nuts.
  5. Make every meal nutritionally balanced consisting of protein, healthy fats, vegetables and/or fruit, and possibly a starchy carbohydrate (depending on your weight loss goals).
  6. Limit starchy carbohydrates to whole grain brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, natural whole-grain oats, etc. Choose real.

Eat Healthy ~ Be Your Best!

~Darren

© 2014 Darren Stehle. All Rights Reserved

Resources

  1. 10 Simple Ways to Eat Healthy Without Thinking, Backed by Science
  2. Calorie control guide for men and women
  3. Perfect Green Protein Smoothie Recipe
  4. Planning to Eat Healthy Meals, Cheat Meals, and Treats.
  5. Dump Soda Pop: The Hidden Sugar Menace.
  • Don Fulmer

    Darren ~ in a world overflowing with people trying to tell me how to eat healthy, you understand me. You present very useful information in terms I can quickly grasp and use.I don’t ever want to count calories, but I can easily use the size of my fist as a measure. A 3:1 ratio of vegetables to fruit is simple to follow. Use a smaller plate is a fascinating, again simple idea.

    I also like that you include additional resources within your post, which provide some great additional information without interfering with the “readability” of your post.

    • Don, thank you for your thoughtful comment! Really pleased that I’m able to help. I don’t think eating needs to be complicated. It should be enjoyed, whatever your health goals.