We've all been there: you're out and about running errands or going to meetings and before you know it, you're feeling overwhelmed with hangriness. With no snacks in tow, you run straight into the closest convenience store and stock up on delicious (albeit junk) foods.
Keeping on-the-go snacks in your bag is the best way to stay well fuelled -- it's also a chance to boost your nutrition and metabolism throughout the day.
"Snacks can be a great way to help manage appetite and keep meal portion sizes in check," Nicole Dynan, accredited practising dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, told The Huffington Post Australia.
"Choose whole foods over processed or packaged foods wherever you can. Whole foods such as fruit and vegetables, milk, cheese, yoghurt and grains are packed with nutrients like protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals, and are lower in salt, saturated fat and added sugar.
"Keeping healthy snacks with you can ensure that you are adding this extra nutrition to your day and not just calories from high sugar and high fat snacks.
If you do choose to snack between meals, practise a mindful approach: limit distractions and really enjoy your food, rather than eating with little attention.
Especially when you have to work during lunch time, snacks can help keep you satiated and boost your metabolism at the same time.
"Having snacks on hand helps to avoid getting caught out when called into that last minute meeting at work. Snacks can keep your metabolism firing for 2-3 hours, until you get the opportunity to have your meal," Dynan said.
"It also allows you to plan your day in food and help prevent you from heading to the chocolate box or vending machine as a last resort to satisfy cravings."
On-the-go snacks are also essential for parents with hungry kids and can also help save you money as you can buy in bulk.
Snacks or 'mid-meals', however, should be small and not become a meal that we mindlessly eat.
"It is important to ensure you are eating because you are hungry, not just out of boredom or habit," Dynan told HuffPost Australia.
"If you do choose to snack between meals, practise a mindful approach: limit distractions and really enjoy your food, rather than eating with little attention."
The decision to snack is an individual one. Some people prefer to stick with main meals, while others choose to eat between meal times.
According to Dynan, allowing one 'indulgence' per day may be all it takes to keep someone on track with their weight loss program. It becomes a problem, however, when these foods are the only things we snack on.
"The trouble comes when no appetite is present when eating, and there are large or multiple snacks being eaten every day," she said.
"It's the small things that can make a big difference when it comes to weight management -- constantly fuelling your body with junk food means you are less likely to get the nutrients you need from whole foods and more likely to become sick as your immune system struggles to keep you protected from winter colds and flus."
Of course, snacking is entirely optional -- if you're not a snacky person and prefer three main meals a day, that's fine.
"The decision to snack is an individual one. Some people prefer to stick with main meals, while others choose to eat between meal times," Dynan said. "Appetite may vary between meals, depending on your age, activity level and what you've eaten at your previous meal."
Here are 12 top on-the-go snacks:
- Unsalted, raw or dry roasted nuts or seeds (e.g. 15 almonds, 10 walnut halves or 8 pecans)
- Fruit -- nature's perfectly packaged snack food that is easy to grab and go
- Veggie sticks such as carrots, mini tomatoes, cucumbers, celery and capsicum
- Home-roasted chickpeas or pepitas (40 minutes in the oven at 170°C)
- 3-4 Vita-Weat wholegrain crackers with nut butter, Vegemite or low fat cheese
- Tuna and whole grain cracker packs
- Homemade energy or protein balls
- Homemade mini muffins or savoury slices packed with grated veggies such as carrot and zucchini
- Air-popped popcorn
- Snack sized box of dried fruit and nuts
- Cheese sticks -- great for the kids
- Bottled water -- always have a drink first to help determine if it is 'head hunger' or 'tummy hunger'
If you are out and about with no snacks in your bag ready to go, don't worry. There are healthier options available at a convenience store.
"Basing your choices mainly on whole foods will sustain you for longer," Dynan said. "Nuts would always be the first thing I look for. Nut and seed bars are another good option."
Chocoholics will be very happy to hear this next snack.
"Dark chocolate -- the darker the better. A couple of squares may be all you need for that late afternoon pick-me-up."
Other good store-bought snack options include:
- Roasted fava nuts (broad beans) or Chic Nuts (roasted chickpeas)
- 300ml plain or chocolate milk, especially on active days
- Fresh fruit
- Wholegrain crackers and cheese
- Low salt pretzels in preference to chips
- Reduced salt soups (e.g. Heinz vegetable range or Continental spring vegetable)
- 1 Skinny Cow ice cream portion
- 1-2 Arnott's Snack Right fruit slice biscuits
- 140g snack sized tub of fruit in natural juice
Leaving the house without breakfast? Fuel yourself for the day and take these nutritious on-the-go breakfasts.
"You can have a homemade green smoothie prepared the night before. Or you could make it in the morning by having all of the ingredients ready to go in a zip-lock bag, which allows for a quick and easy blend," Dynan told HuffPost Australia.
"You could also prepare Bircher or overnight oats soaked in water or milk -- just add fresh fruit in the morning."
Yoghurt and muesli cups -- either homemade or store-bought -- are another great on-the-go breakfast.
"At work, you could also have yoghurt and fresh or frozen fruit (this can be purchased ahead and stored in the work fridge for your arrival each day). You can also have a microwaved poached egg on toast at work, or raisin toast with low fat ricotta cheese and honey."