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If you frequently find yourself trading breakfast for a granola bar, skipping lunch and hitting the vending machines, or passing up dinner and grabbing a quick bite on the way to your evening activity, you are hardly alone. Increasingly, over the last three decades, the Wall Street Journal reports, America has become a nation of snackers. And if the trend continues, the three square meals we Americans have long prided ourselves on may go the way of the electric typewriter, the rotary phone and the passenger pigeon.
Back in the late 1970s, only 10 percent of Americans snacked three or more times a day. By the 1990s, that number had risen to about 20 percent. In 2010, 56 percent of us were snacking that frequently, the Journal reports, citing the most recent government data. What’s more, a 2013 survey by consumer tracker The Hartman Group found that 48 percent of Americans passed up meals at least three times per week, and the majority of us — 63 percent — didn’t decide what we were going to eat until about an hour before we ate it. And while in the morning we tend to reach for healthy snacks like fruit, in the evening, as willpower wanes, we’re diving into the candy jars and ice cream bowls with abandon.
“Snacking used to be an occasional thing, now it is just kind of daily life,” Laurie Demeritt, Hartman’s chief executive, told the Journal. “There are fewer rules.”
The collective snack attacks have been driven by demographic shifts: more single parents, empty nesters and dual-income families with afterschool activities (sports, music lessons, homework) that crowd the dinner hour. And the food industry has responded by increasing its “to go” offerings — packaging foods in small portable portions, and highlighting the calorie content and nutritional information.
But is all this snacking a bad thing? Not necessarily. According to the Mayo Clinic, snacks can help you manage hunger, cut down on binge eating, and provide you with the energy and nutrients your body needs.
The best way to snack is to keep your eating moderate and balanced. Choose foods that are high in water or fiber content: a piece of fruit, some raw veggies, whole-grain crackers, nuts and seeds (not too many), and low-fat dairy products. And if you’re trying to maintain or lose weight, keep your snacks under 100 calories.
Pass up the potato chips and make these Smoky Kale Chips instead. Whip up some Nut-and-Seed Mix with Papaya (pictured above). And mix things up for the kids with a host of healthy afterschool snack ideas.
That way, you’ll always be prepared for a snack attack.