No matter how conscientious you are about feeding everyone in your family healthful meals, there are going to be times between those meals when hunger gnaws mercilessly. Before you know it, kids and parents alike are raiding the cupboards for something to take the edge off. There's nothing wrong with that -- provided you do it correctly. That means stocking up on tasty and healthful items. The next time your family's snack cravings beckon, satisfy with nutritional nuggets that are just an arm's length away.
Dried Fruits: Raisins, apricots, figs, and dates don't have the water content of fresh fruit, so they aren't quite as filling, says Maria Walls, senior nutritionist for Weight Watchers International. Still, they last for ages and contain much of the nutrition of their undried brethren. A small box of raisins has 130 calories and no fat.
Tuna Salad in a Pouch: The StarKist Lunch To-Go, for example, has 3 ounces of tuna, mayo, relish, and six crackers, plus a spoon to mix it all up. It doesn't need to be refrigerated and weighs in at a relatively small 210 calories.
Nuts: "They're great snack items because they're so filling," says Katherine Tallmadge, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. Walnuts are desirable because they're high in omega-3 fatty acids that protect against heart disease. Limit yourself to 1 ounce -- about 160 calories.
Fruit Cookies: Two cookies have about 110 calories and 2.5 grams of fat. The low-fat varieties have 90 calories and almost no fat.
Animal Cookies: Sixteen of the critters contain only 120 calories. And even vegetarians can enjoy biting the head off a lion or the hump off a camel.
Single-Serving Soups: Look for an 8-ounce serving that has no more than 480 milligrams of sodium, says Connie Diekman, director of nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis. You can find a nutritious cup of soup with 100 to 200 calories.
Snacks for Your Fridge
Low-Fat Cottage Cheese: You need calcium, and cottage cheese is a great way to get it. The low-fat variety isn't anywhere near as grainy and bland as the nonfat kind, yet it's almost as filling as the full-fat version. A cup will add only 160 calories to your day.
Fresh Fruits: All fruits nutritional, filling, and low in fat. Take a medium-size pear or apple: Each has only 60 calories. A cup of strawberries contains about 50 calories, and the same amount of blueberries has 40 calories. After you've rinsed berries, place them in small containers for snacking. If you want a real treat, add a dollop of low-fat whipped topping.
Frozen Fruit Bars: Look for those made from real fruit. You can find them in a rainbow of exotic colors and flavors, such as mango. They pack fewer than 100 calories and 0 grams of fat.
Yogurt: A rich source of calcium and protein, yogurt comes in an array of flavors. A 6-ounce container has between 90 and 300 calories, depending on whether it's regular, low-fat, or nonfat. Like nuts, yogurt boosts your energy level. For a sweet and crunchy snack, mix a handful of bran flakes with some lowfat yogurt.
Pudding: A 4-ounce cup has 140 calories and 4 grams of fat. Low-fat has 100 calories and 0 grams of fat. Good for a sweet tooth -- and filling too.
Snacks for Your Kitchen Cupboards
Whole Wheat Crackers: Wholegrain foods preserve the healthful parts of the grain and are a source of trace minerals, such as zinc, iron, and copper, plus vitamins. Wrap a slice of American cheese around a cracker for a satisfying snack that's still low in calories and fat.
Chips: Baked are best -- about 110 calories and 2 grams of fat in a 1-ounce serving. Ten regular tortilla chips with a half-cup of salsa has fewer than 200 calories.
Decaf Cappuccino: A 6-ounce cup made with hot water has 90 to 100 calories and 2.5 grams of fat. Or use skim milk for a drink that is richer in calcium and protein.
Peanut Butter: Spread a little on crackers, or make a banana sandwich. Split one small banana -- 100 calories -- lengthwise. Spread no more than a tablespoon of peanut butter -- 90 calories -- over one half of the banana and top it with the other half.
Sardines: Even the ones packed in olive oil only have about 110 calories per 2.5-ounce can. For a little variety, try the ones packed in mustard, pesto, or salsa. Six wheat crackers will add another 100 calories.
Dry Cereal: Parcel out about half a sandwich bag of cereal and mix in a few raisins or nuts for a crunchy snack. Or buy a cereal that already has nuts or raisins in it. A 1.4-ounce box of Raisin Bran has 130 calories and little fat.
Originally published in Better Homes and Gardens magazine, April 2004.