Kate Williams, RDN
Understanding why people snack is as important as what foods they choose when making dietary recommendations.
I recently visited the National Museum of American History where I explored the FOOD exhibit. The exhibit showcased how American eating habits and food environments changed from the 1950’s to the new millennium. From three square meals to grazing throughout the day, eating habits changed drastically. One display featured an early edition Pringles® canister and pressurized cheese spread in a can. It triggered a lot of memories of snack-filled summer days and after school treats. I still remember grabbing some Pepperidge Farm® Milano® cookies from the snack drawer in my grandparents’ house – a special treat during our visit to Connecticut.
Snacking habits changed over the last century and continue to evolve. While the number of people who report snacking daily hasn’t changed much in recent years, the amount they snack on has.1 A snack is anything you eat or drink outside of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Nutrition professionals need to think more about what makes people reach for certain foods and how they can help clients make healthier choices that fit their needs.
Snacking Habits Today
Many people have a snack stash nearby at all times. Moms famously have snacks stuffed in their bags and cars, offices have drawers and counters full of goodies, and many of us have multiple snack drawers and cupboards at home. According to What We Eat in America, NHANES 2013-14, most people graze in between meals 2-3 times per day, regardless of how many meals they eat.2 Our environment encourages us to snack with grab and go options readily available in vending machines, grocery stores, gas stations, and even home improvement stores. All of this adds up to a lot of extra food available, and potentially calories, compared to a few decades ago.
Are we hungrier than a century ago? Probably not, but hectic schedules and on-the-go lifestyles make it hard to resist convenience snacking. According to Mintel, frequent grazers say they are too busy to eat a meal or want to treat themselves with something indulgent. Others feel hungry and want to maintain energy levels until their next meal. Food choices and expectations can vary throughout the day, too. In the morning, people tend to look for healthier snacks that will help them sustain their energy. At night, they reach for treats that provide taste and comfort.1
Help People Snack a Little Better
Find Out WHY: Take the time to determine why a person makes a food choice during snacking occasions throughout the day. Do they want to increase energy levels? Use snacks in place of a meal? Understanding their motivations and expectations is important to helping them make better choices.
Consider Convenience: Convenience drives many snacking decisions. Help your clients make better snacking choices by suggesting products that help them fit in more fruits or vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein without a lot of preparation. Try new, convenience snack options like nut mixes, whole grain pretzels, or Well Yes!® Sipping Soups.
Address Cost Barriers: Consumers report that cost is a significant barrier to eating more fruits and vegetables. However, many fruits and veggies are similar in cost, per portion as snack foods. Remind your clients that fresh, frozen, dried, and 100% juice can help them fit more fruits and vegetables in their diets. Suggest 100% Vegetable Juice as a satisfying snack to help tide them over between meals without a lot of calories.
Suggest a Snack Upgrade: Sometimes it is easier for people to think about simple swaps they can make for their snacks rather than changing their habits entirely. Check out our new handout for suggestions on how your clients can upgrade their next snack.
Know What’s in the Market: The Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo is right around the corner and a wonderful venue to explore what is new and up-and-coming in the world of snacking. Request samples, coupons and network with health professionals in the food industry.
Snack with Purpose,
Kate's BioKate received her bachelor's degree in dietetics from the University of Delaware and completed her dietetic internship at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. She has over ten years of experience in a variety of nutrition-related practice areas including clinical nutrition, weight management counseling, health and wellness and nutrition education. Kate has worked as a nutrition consultant to the Campbell Soup Company since 2005.
- MINTEL SNACKING MOTIVATIONS AND ATTITUDES, US, MAY 2017. Reviewed July 2018.
- What We Eat in American, NHANES 2013-14 Accessed July 2018.