You may have heard that eating frequent, small meals is the healthiest way to eat. While that’s not a complete myth, neither is it the whole truth. People differ widely in their response to frequent eating, and many people actually do much better on three simple meals a day with nothing in between. But many also do better with more frequent smaller meals or a combination of meals and snacks.
That said, most people find themselves wanting a snack from time to time. Wherever you are on the continuum, following a few basic rules can make your snacks (or, as they’re sometimes called, “mini meals”) part of a lifestyle based on the healthiest meals on earth. Just think of each snack as a mini version of the polymeal. It may not contain all the ingredients that a complete polymeal would, but the more the better.
The only difference between a snack, a mini-meal, and a full meal is the amount of food. Think of a snack as a toy-sized version of a meal, a mini-meal as just that – a meal in miniature – and a full meal as the grownup version. As a rule of thumb, a good snack should be 100-200 calories, a mini meal up to 300-400 calories, and a full meal anywhere from 300-800 calories. Our own personal preference is to try to save meals of more than 800 calories for rare occasions like an annual feast!
Follow these three rules for the best of all possible worlds when it comes to snacks and mini-meals:
- Quality snacks with staying power are more than just temporary fillers; look for snacks high in fiber or with some protein. A protein shake with added flaxseeds for fiber or with high-fiber berries is an example. Or try high fiber, whole grain crackers with a small amount of cheese. Nuts with a few raisins thrown in for good measure are another good choice.
- Be prepared – keeping a regular stock of different kinds of snack foods available in your pantry, in your car, and at work will help prevent both grabbing lower quality options and overeating.
- Quality counts. In general, fresher and less refined food contains more nutrition and long-lasting energy.