Surprise! You’re Snacking All Wrong

Our experts reveal the mini-meal mistakes that lead to dreaded weight gain, annoying hunger pangs and more.

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Mistake #1: Not Accounting for Taste

rice cakes

Photo by Andy Lyons

Photo by Andy Lyons

If you’re going to eat something, make sure it tastes good! (We’re talking to you, bland rice cakes). “When you choose a snack that isn't delicious you are more likely to keep snacking or go back to get something else sooner,” explains Ashley Koff, RD, CEO of The Better Nutrition Program. And that’s no good for your waistline.

Related: You're Scrambling Eggs All Wrong

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Mistake #2: Eating at the Wrong Time

snacking while watching tv

Photo by Tetra Images/Getty Images

Photo by Tetra Images/Getty Images

We know you’ve got places to go and shows to watch but combining those things with a snack could lead to excess pounds. “When you eat while doing simultaneous activities, you may end of taking in a lot more calories than you planned—plus you may not even enjoy the food you’re eating,” explains Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, author of Read It Before You Eat It - Taking You from Label to Table. “Set aside time for an evening snack, for example, and pay attention to the taste, texture and temperature of the food. Instead of watching TV, try closing your eyes when you eat to making the most of your snacking experience.”

Related: You're Making Tea All Wrong

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Mistake #3: Giving Yourself an All-Access Pass

snacks on counter

Photo by Greg Scheidemann

Photo by Greg Scheidemann

“All too often I see offices with big displays of snacks, countertops with clear containers filled with foods to munch on and pantries stocked with things to grab,” laments Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, nutritionist in New York City. Those bins filled with cereal, granola, chips and cookies spell nothing but trouble. “These visual cues can override our hunger cues, prompting us to eat when we aren’t even hungry. I’m not saying you need to clear the cabinets, but try to keep snacks out of sight—on a higher shelf, for instance. That will turn off your auto-pilot snacking habit and encourage you to check in with your hunger signals before grabbing something to eat.”

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Mistake #4: Missing One of the Fab Four

yogurt berry and almond bowl

Photo by Jason Donnelly

Photo by Jason Donnelly

Having the right mix of four nutrients in your snack not only means you’re nourishing your body but also means you’ll stay fuller for a longer period of time and get a great energy boost. “An ideal snack has healthy fats, protein, carbohydrates and fiber,” explains Mitzi Dulan, RD, CSSD. Skip snacks that won’t satisfy your appetite like chips—which research shows is one of the most popular snacks in North America. Instead opt for cottage cheese and a piece of fruit, Greek yogurt with some sliced almonds and fresh berries or 1/2 of a tuna salad sandwich on whole wheat bread.

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Mistake #5: Not Counting Calories

bag of potato chips

Photo by Kate Mathis

Photo by Kate Mathis

“Some people grab ‘a little something’ to tide them over to the next meal without realizing that certain snacks could have more calories than a meal itself,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, author of Read It Before You Eat It - Taking You from Label to Table. A big bag of chips could set you back several hundred calories. Pay attention to nutritional information on packaging and watch the portions on homemade snacks so they’re not the size of an actual meal.

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Mistake #6: Snacking as a Meal Replacement

woman eating healthy meal

Photo by Lumina Images/Getty Images

Photo by Lumina Images/Getty Images

“I have found that some people are snacking non-stop and don’t really eat true meals,” says Mitzi Dulan, RD, CSSD. In fact, a Nielsen report showed that 41 percent of North Americans ate snacks instead of dinner at least once in the past month. “I recommend eating three meals a day and you can have one to two snacks,” says Dulan. “Make sure you are eating real meals most of the time. It’s more satisfying and substantial.”

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Mistake #7: Setting a Poor Example for Your Kids

healthy snack hummus and veggie dippers

Photo by Peter Ardito

Photo by Peter Ardito

“Kids are reaching for cookies, chips and other treats more than in previous generations,” says Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, nutritionist in New York City. The result: They consumer fewer healthy foods because they’re filling up on everything else. “If your kids are snackers, make sure to provide balanced options that will nourish their bodies,” says Cassetty, who recommends hummus with veggie dippers and whole grain crackers, a cheese stick and piece of fruit, plain yogurt with fruit and nuts or a boiled egg with some sliced peppers.

Also see: Dietitian-Approved Snacks