Ahhhh summertime eating…there seems to be a level of food freedom that accompanies the summer months, and lots of us welcome that newfound meal flexibility. The longer daylight hours are one reason that mealtimes may shift in the summer. (Why yes, I’d love a late dinner on the deck!) Another reason for the varying summer meal times is the lack of a strict schedule—something that we may find ourselves experiencing more than ever these days—for a variety of reasons. Loosey-goosey meal times are not automatically problematic. There are, however, a few things to consider if you notice that your general meal and snack schedule is has gone out the window.
Erratic eating can turn to frantic eating.
We all know that letting ourselves get “hangry” is the recipe for a major cabinet ransacking (not to mention the increased likelihood of low blood sugar symptoms). Paying a little attention to the length of time between meals is not usually difficult—our bodies have built-in mechanisms to remind us to eat (hello, hunger pangs). If you find yourself routinely ignoring your hunger signals, learning some mindful eating techniques might be really helpful. Do you typically skip lunch but then raid the vending machine at 3:30 for whatever sugary treats you can find to fill the void? You might not realize you’re developing a habit that not only shortchanges you in nutrients, but also makes you feel out-of-control around food (never a good feeling).
One option to consider: schedule in your meals at regular intervals—at least 4 hours apart. Seriously, pencil them in your schedule and give yourself permission to actually sit down and eat a regular meal. And by meal, I mean a plate or bowl of food that has at least 3 food groups represented (protein, fruit, veggie, fat, grain). As for the family, check the calendar and plan the week’s family dinners (or breakfasts) in advance so everyone knows when to expect—and show up for—a meal together.
Snacking can support your nutrition.
I like pretzels as much as the next gal, but the reality is that simply grabbing whatever is tasty and close by isn’t the best snack strategy. Now that summer is here, you may find yourself (and your family members) snacking more than usual. There’s nothing wrong with snacking. of course. In fact, it’s an important source of calories and nutrients for children and some of the rest of us! But it’s also a good idea to be intentional about it. We’ve covered snacking quite a bit on the Guiding Stars blog, and one theme can be found in practically every post: make your snacks count. By this, we mean composing your snacks from foods that actually contribute to your day’s nutrient intake, like mini-meals.
Making sure you have nourishing, filling snacky-type items on hand is really half the battle when it comes to being able to quickly put together a good snack. Next time you have the need for a quick snack to tide you over between meals, swap out the relatively empty calories in chips, candies, and frozen treats for more nutrient-dense foods. Make it easy on yourself by following the Guiding Stars when you choose your snack foods. Choosing more two- and three-star foods will net you smarter snacks. You’ll satisfy your between-meal hunger and your body will thank you in the long run.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- whole fruit
- dried fruit
- whole-grain crackers
- cheese sticks
- baby carrots
- hard-boiled eggs
Limit snacks to 2 or 3 per day.
The risk of unlimited snacking is that you’ll end up never eating a real meal—basically grazing your way through the day. If you find yourself eating more than about 3 snacks per day, you may have entered the grazing zone. Grazing puts you in the habit of constantly eating, of course. And picking at this and that all day long can backfire on you. Not only do you never feel truly satisfied, but you also can lose touch with how much total food you’ve consumed. You may end up taking in more than you need while never really feeling physically good about it. Not to mention, your grazing food choices may not be as nutrient-rich as a real meal.
All in all, grazing puts us further and further out of touch with our bodily signals for food. So instead, plan for a couple snacks a day and keep in mind that by definition a snack is a pretty small portion of food—200-300 calories or so should tide you over until the next meal. And don’t forget to tune in and see if you’re really hungry between meals—you might not need that 3 pm snack every day depending on what you had for lunch or how active you’ve been.
Snacking smartly means having the right foods on hand and being a bit strategic. You can rely on Guiding Stars to help you with the shopping part, the rest—paying attention to your body’s hunger cues and responding to them appropriate—is up to you.