First, some questions: What’s a meal, what’s a snack, how often are you supposed to eat them and at what time? If you eat a folded-over bologna sandwich over the kitchen sink, is that a “smart snack?” Is it a good idea to go through every “snack-size bag” in the pantry at 45-minute intervals? And does food eaten in the car even count at all? One paragraph in, and already, this is getting complicated. Given our current lives and, um, mental situations, it’s easy to see how it can all get a little twisted.
That’s why we reached out to nutrition experts to help you get a handle on snacks, meals, and even those folded-over bologna sandwiches.
Calm down; snacks are fine.
The nutritionists we talked to give snacks a thumbs-up. In fact, they see them as an essential part of a healthy diet. “Snacks are a small bridge to the next meal,” registered dietician nutritionist Vicki Shanta Retelny told HuffPost. “While there’s no one perfect eating approach, eating balanced meals and snacks at consistent times during the day keeps your blood sugar in better control, keeps you from overeating, and keeps cravings at bay.”
“I wholeheartedly believe in snacks,” another RDN, Amy Gorin, told HuffPost. “It’s tough to go for hours and hours without eating, and you shouldn’t have to. I recommend that people eat every three to five hours.”
Eating regularly is a necessity, these nutritionists say. (And yes, the food you eat in your car does count, it turns out.)
“Balanced snacking that includes protein, fiber, and other nutrients will help keep blood sugar in an optimal range,” RDN Amanda Frankeny told HuffPost. “That matters because low blood sugar invites exhaustion and can make you more likely to crave sugary or fatty foods. Munching on nourishing snacks helps keep blood sugar stable.”
Timing matters for meals and snacks.
“I personally follow the top tip I give my clients, which is to establish a regular eating schedule and stick with it,” registered dietician Cynthia Sass told HuffPost. “For many, that means something like breakfast at 8 a.m., lunch at noon, a snack around 3 p.m., and dinner around 6 p.m. I tell people to set their cell phone alarm with reminders if needed until they settle into a routine.”
Sass explained that this isn’t just a routine for routine’s sake. There are actually some health benefits to eating at the exact regular times. “One of the biggest benefits is appetite regulation,” she said. “After a week or so, your body adjusts to the pattern, which results in becoming hungry at expected meal times. This can help people better tune in to actual hunger cues, and it can improve the ability to distinguish between true hunger and the desire to eat, which may be triggered by boredom or stress.”