It’s somewhere around 3:00 p.m. when you’re stomach starts growling. “Feed me!” sounds from your body loud enough for your coworkers five cubicles away to hear its roar. You're looking for a healthy snack that's also enjoyable, but it needs to be fast — at least to save you from rumbling embarrassment.
You contemplate heading to the vending machine with a couple dollars, where you’ll subscribe to the inner debate between salty and sweet before retreating back to your desk disappointed in the lack of semi-healthy or taste-bud satisfying options. What do you eat that's healthy and also enjoyable?
For some tips on smart snacking, I spoke with Los Angeles-based nutritionist Dr. Mary Wansley, who first suggests to consider the source of your desire to snack. Dr. Wansley mentions that afternoon snacking often isn’t related to physical hunger, but rather, it stems from boredom or even thirst. First and foremost, she suggests, “Make sure you’re hydrated,” as you’re likely confusing hunger for thirst. If you find you are truly hungry, however, reconsider your breakfast and lunch choices, as Dr. Wansley says each meal should be substantial and nutrient-dense to leave you feeling full and energized throughout the day.
Los Angeles-based nutritionist Dr. Mary Wansley tells Bustle via phone, “I would advocate a snack with protein, whether it’s a fruit and a protein, vegetables and a protein, or something carb-based with a protein.” Dr. Wansley clarifies that protein stabilizes blood sugar, which helps curb your appetite later in the day.
Here are seven options for budget-friendly, healthy snacking that are dense in proteins to leave you feeling fuller, longer.
1. Ezekiel Bread
This fibrous, sprouted grain bread is rich in proteins, vitamins and 18 vegetable-based amino acids, according to the FoodForLife Baking Company's website. Ezekiel bread is full of legumes like barley, millet, and lentils, and its nutrient-packed content is sure to leave you feeling full after just one slice. Heat up some Ezekiel and top it with a healthy fat like hummus, avocado or nut butter for a hearty snack. Once you go Ezekiel, you’ll never go back.
2. Dark Chocolate
Chocolate lovers, rejoice! As described on WebMD, the benefits of dark chocolate as a powerful antioxidant and aide in lowering blood pressure are more than enough reason to say yes to this sweet-tooth snack. One ounce of dark chocolate comes even boasts a little protein. Enjoy your afternoon ounce of chocolate with a small cup of coffee for an added treat. Just be sure to keep the bag or bar far from your desk drawer to resist added temptation.
3. Cheese & Vegetables
If you love cheese and you know it, clap you’re hands. Honestly, who doesn’t love cheese? Classic snacking cheeses like Babybel and Laughing Cow make it easy to indulge in moderation, and according to their respective nutrition facts, each offers a boost of protein in just a few bites. The variety of flavors add a little excitement to the mundane, especially when paired with sliced cucumber or julienned vegetables like peppers and carrots. Throw it all together in a plastic bag and call it a day.
4. Fresh-Cut Fruit
Fruit is a go-to option for healthy snacking because it’s quick and easy, delicious, and nutritious. Next time you find yourself wandering the produce aisle, opt for whole fruits over pre-packaged versions. Where a whole watermelon will run you $3-$5, a container of the pre-cut fruit could soar as high as $8-$12. Take the time to prepare your fruits yourself and your wallet will thank you. Not to mention, fruits come in a variety of flavors, from strong and tangy to subtle and sweet. If you go for a classic apple, accommodate for its low protein content with a small amount of nut butter for a fulfilling snack.
5. Protein Balls
In case you haven’t heard, these little power bites are one of the more satisfying ways to sneak in a protein bump and reenergize yourself for the rest of the day. With options galore, these balls can adhere to any diet and last for two weeks in your fridge. Dates, nuts, oats, fruits and even chocolate come together in these no-bake, hassle free bites that will save you money in comparison to big-brand protein bars on the grocery store shelves. Take the time to prep ‘em every week — you won’t regret it.
6. Hard-Boiled Eggs
If you’ve eaten a hard-boiled egg in your life, you’re familiar with the sulfur scent that lingers in its presence. While the smell might be significant enough to deter any snacker, hard-boiled eggs are one of the best ways to satisfy that midday hunger. According to WebMD, eggs are packed with protein, healthy fat, vitamins and minerals. The yolk itself boasts most of the fat and protein, though when overcooked, it can become quite dry and crumbly. Toss the yolk and pair the whites with a teaspoon of hummus or half an avocado to balance out this snack with some healthy fats. Try topping it all off with black pepper or cayenne for an added kick to keep things interesting.
We’re not talking movie-theater-buttered-salty-oily-finger-inducing popcorn, here. Although that sounds so delicious, plain kernels offer a major smart snacking opportunity with no added oil or butter. Naked popcorn is easy to make at home or in the office with a brown paper bag and some plain kernels. Measure out 3 to 4 tablespoons of kernels and toss them in the bag, folding down the closure a couple times before setting in the microwave for two minutes of pop time. When your steamy popcorn is ready, sprinkle it with black pepper, cayenne, paprika or any salt-free seasoning for added flavor.
Smart snacking can be made simple with a little added preparation. If you're not the type to prep and pack your lunch, at minimum, set aside a few minutes at the start of your week to get your snack situation lined up for the days ahead. Your wallet, and your growling belly, will thank you!