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Satisfy the rise of snacking with nutritious options

SHAPE March 2016

With snacking more popular than ever, restaurateurs have a range of options for improving nutrient content. 











As snacking throughout the day continues to evolve as an alternative to more traditional meal periods, nutritionists and culinary professionals are urging Americans to make more healthful choices when it comes to selecting foods that satisfy their hunger cravings.

Chief among the experts' concerns is that Americans are opting for foods that are high in added sugar, salt and saturated fats. To help address those concerns, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has chosen “Savor the Flavor of Eating Right” as the theme of this year's National Nutrition Month which each year focuses on improving healthy eating patterns among Americans.

“During National Nutrition Month and beyond, make an effort to cut back on food and beverages high in added sugar, sodium and saturated fats,” says Academy spokesperson Lisa Cimperman. “Take the time to find creative, healthful and nutritious ways to add flavor to food.”

Noting that research has found most Americans consume at least one snack each day while half have two or three snacks, Isabel Maples, also an Academy spokesperson, maintains that snacks tend to be less nutritious than structured meals.

“At meals we don't get all of the necessary nutrients,” Maples says. “But when it comes to snacks, we're definitely missing out. Americans are overweight and undernourished. We're not getting the proper nutrients. And often people look at snacks and say, 'That's my indulgence.' Snacks are usually not the most nutrient-packed foods.”

According to Nielsen research, Americans' top three snack choices are chips, chocolate and cheese.

Research also has found that consumers snack for different reasons. According to Mintel's The Snacking Occasion 2014 report, 66 percent snack to satisfy a craving. Sixty-one percent say they snack to tide over between meals, 25 percent believe it's healthier to eat several small snacks throughout the day, and 24 percent snack to fuel physical activity. Twenty-three percent say they snack because they're bored.  

Allison Righter, lecturing instructor, culinary science, at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., says the first thing people must do is to understand why they're snacking and then find more nutrient-dense alternatives. For example, they may choose yogurt as a morning snack which helps to provide sustained energy throughout the day. However, they might be better served opting for a low-sugar, low-fat, plain yogurt selection, she says.

Chefs and restaurateurs also can do their part by menuing snacks that are more healthful. One relatively simple way to lower calorie intake is to reduce an item's portion size. The Academy, for example, recommends offering smaller dessert portions — often only a bite or two but just enough to satisfy an individual's sweet tooth. The same tactic also can apply to other courses, like soup, Righter says. A snack size portion of soup can be a good vehicle for beans or vegetables or whole grains.

Devising snack items based on foods like fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains and low-fat dairy products also provides a more rapid route to better nutrition. Maples and Righter recommend that restaurateurs offer more healthful snacks such as:

•    Popcorn, either plain or flavored with other ingredients, like Asian spices

•    Olive plates containing other vegetables or dips

•    Seasoned, roasted nuts

•    Homemade chips made from root vegetables like turnips or beets, or chips made from corn tortillas and served with salsa or bean dip

•    Hummus platters with raw vegetables and pita slices

•    Housemade pickles

•    Smaller smoothies thickened with frozen fruit

•    Plain yogurt sweetened with fruit juice

•    Mini-size wraps or tacos filled with fish or seafood

•    Fruit and cheese plates with whole grain crackers

With Americans getting too much sodium in their daily diet, it makes sense for chefs to reduce the amount of salt in snacks. Experts recommend replacing some salt with herbs, spices and other flavorful ingredients — particularly when devising ethnic-centric items. “Chefs can use snacking as an opportunity to explore more global flavors,” Righter says. “Don't rely on sodium. And take inspiration from global cuisines that tend to be more plant-forward.”

For example, the Academy pairs popular ethnic cuisines with the flavors and ingredients usually associated with them:

•    China: Low-sodium soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, ginger

•    France: Thyme, rosemary, sage, marjoram, lavender, tomato

•    Greece: Olive oil, lemon, oregano

•    Hungary: Onion, paprika

•    India: Curry, cumin, ginger, garlic

•    Italy: Tomato, olive oil, garlic, basil, marjoram

•    Mexico: Tomato, chili, paprika

•    Middle East: Olive oil, lemon, parsley

•    Morocco/North Africa: Cinnamon, cumin, coriander, ginger

•    West Africa: Tomato, peanuts, chili

In the meantime, snacking as an eating habit is expected to continue to grow. According to the NPD Group, snack foods eaten as main meals will grow some 5 percent from 2013 to 2018, to 86.4 billion eating occasions. “There is a huge opportunity for making better snack choices and using them as an opportunity to get more nutrients into what we're eating,” Righter says.

However, experts say, even when people want to eat healthy, they still want their food to taste good. “Taste is still the No. 1 factor,” Maples says.


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