In the middle of the afternoon or late in the evening, you find yourself roaming around the kitchen looking for something to eat. So, what do you do? You grab a bag of potato chips and a soda to hold you until dinner. Unfortunately, the snack you chose to eat could top 400 calories or more, in addition to pumping you full of sugar that makes you tired an hour after eating.
All of us have the urge to snack, and snacking can keep you healthy. Nutritionists have said for years that a healthy diet includes eating several small portions of food per day, instead of three jumbo-sized meals. Snacking helps curb cravings which cause you to indulge in huge or unhealthy meals, helps fight weight gain, regulates mood, and helps keep your metabolism stable.
Snacking can easily get out of control, however, and this can derail your diet and health plans. You can snack smart without breaking your budget. You don’t have to spend money on overpriced “gourmet snacks,” like 100-calorie packs of Oreos and Chips Ahoy. You can make your own healthy, frugal, and tasty snacks to have on hand when you need something to eat between meals.
Healthy and Frugal Snack Ideas
1. Whole Grain Crackers with Peanut Butter
This wonderful mid-afternoon snack has it all. Whole grain crackers are a good source of fiber, which makes you feel full. A thin spreading of peanut butter gives you just enough protein and healthy fats to carry you through until dinner. You can also sweeten this snack up with some sliced fresh fruit or a light drizzle of honey.
If you don’t want to eat a whole piece of whole grain bread, opt for a whole wheat English muffin instead. You can still get the benefits of whole grains, but in a smaller portion. Look for coupons and sales for your favorite muffins and crackers, and visit a bakery outlet if you have one in your town. Bakery outlets offer tremendous deals on muffins and crackers, and frequently have additional savings on certain days of the week.
2. A Portion of Nuts
Pick up any diet or health book out there, and more than likely you will find the health benefits of nuts mentioned somewhere in the text. Doctors and scientists alike believe that nuts are a powerful superfood and that everyone could integrate more nuts into their diet plans.
Nuts make a wonderful snack because they have so many health benefits. According to Harvard Medical School, nuts help lower cholesterol and contain fats that benefit the heart. They also contain plenty of omega-3 fatty acids which help reduce dangerous irregular heart rhythms.
You only need to eat a small handful of nuts to get you through to dinner. Nuts have a lot of calories, but they’re also packed with protein and fiber, and can help you feel full. Buy nuts in bulk at discount grocery stores to save money. You can store fresh nuts in sealed plastic containers or in the freezer. When stored properly, nuts can last for months or even years.
3. Greek Yogurt
I like to eat a half-cup of Greek yogurt with a drizzle of honey and fresh fruit in the afternoons. Greek yogurt makes a very healthy snack because of the high protein count: 22 grams in 8 ounces of yogurt. Greek yogurt also has a lot of calcium; 30% of your daily needs is contained in 8 ounces.
I search for Greek yogurt coupons to help save money. Greek yogurt lasts for two months or more, so you can save by purchasing several large tubs when the yogurt goes on sale.
If you do not like Greek yogurt, regular yogurt makes a healthy, inexpensive late afternoon snack as well. However, keep in mind that many regular yogurt brands such as Dannon and Yoplait have a lot of sugar in them. Instead of buying sugar-filled yogurt, purchase a tub of plain yogurt, then add a teaspoon of your own jam or honey, and some fresh fruit or berries, to each serving. You can save time by dividing the giant tub of yogurt into 6-8 smaller containers, and then adding the jam, honey or fruit to each container.
4. Hummus and Vegetables
Chickpeas, the main ingredient in hummus, is one of the world’s oldest farmed foods. The beans have many health properties, including high amounts of protein and fiber, and folic acid. In addition, the American Institute for Cancer Research, quoted on WebMD, states that certain compounds in beans help defend our cells from cancer.
Like most foods, you can save money when you make your own hummus. Hummus only has a few ingredients: chickpeas, which cost less when you purchase them dried, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil.
If you don’t want to make hummus yourself, save money by purchasing pre-made hummus from an ethnic grocery store, or buy it in bulk at Costco. Hummus keeps for a long time once made, so don’t worry about eating it all within a week. I love to use hummus as a dip for fresh, raw vegetables such as carrots, broccoli and peppers.
5. Air-Popped Popcorn
Popcorn is one of the healthiest, cheapest foods you can eat, as long as you make it at home, instead of buying the “bagged” microwave popcorn. Whole-grain popcorn has a lot of fiber; three cups of popcorn contain 3.5 grams of fiber. Popcorn works well as a late afternoon or evening snack, and it makes you feel full. Popcorn also has a high amount of antioxidants, which help you fight off sickness and cancer. Best of all, you can buy a pound of this healthy, tasty snack for less than $2.
You can get the most benefits from popcorn if you pop it at home. Don’t worry, you don’t need a fancy popcorn popper to make popcorn. Just pour 1/4 cup of popcorn into a brown paper lunch sack, roll up the opening, and then pop it in the microwave. Once the popcorn has stopped popping, take it out and drizzle it with olive oil and a bit of sea salt. It’s delicious, cheap, and healthy! You can also drizzle your popcorn with cayenne pepper for a kick, or add maple syrup if you like sweet-tasting popcorn.
6. Pickled Vegetables
What do cucumber pickles, pickled green beans, and pickled cauliflower have in common? They have low calorie counts and they won’t break your budget, especially if you can them yourself at home. These vegetables also have iron, vitamin A, and potassium.
Pickled vegetables make a wonderful snack. They go even further if you pair them with a few whole-grain crackers with cheese. I can my own green beans every year, and they make a wonderful, calorie-free snack that I enjoy all winter long.
7. Healthy Pancakes
Pancakes don’t usually fall into the “healthy” category, unless you add vegetables. Before you try to stomach the idea of eating vegetable pancakes, it helps to stop thinking of them as a breakfast food. Pancakes can make a wonderful, healthy afternoon snack. And you can make pancakes quickly, especially if you make them on the weekend and freeze them for the week ahead.
Add fresh chopped spinach or frozen, drained spinach to your regular pancake recipe. You can also add scallions, cumin, cayenne pepper, and most other seasonings to flavor your pancakes. If you have any whole wheat flour or ground flaxseed on hand, they make your pancakes even healthier as well.
I’ve made healthy pancakes using spinach and sweet potato, and they tasted wonderful. I found a great recipe for Spinach Pancakes over at Snack Girl. You can always microwave your frozen pancakes, and then pop them into the toaster oven to make them crispy.
Healthy muesli originated in Switzerland, and includes whole oats and other grains, along with fresh or dried fruit. Muesli is similar to granola, but it’s not baked; it’s raw. Loaded with whole grains and fiber, eating a bowl of muesli in the morning with milk will make you feel full until lunch – guaranteed.
Those of you who have had muesli might wonder why I’ve included it here. After all, buying muesli in the store costs you a small fortune. However, I don’t buy muesli in the store. Instead, I make it myself, for pennies compared to what I’d pay at the grocery store.
You can find my favorite recipe on AllRecipes. I’ve changed the recipe a bit, adding in flaxseed for added fiber and drizzling honey over each bowl. Although many people think of muesli as a breakfast food, I always eat it as a snack in the afternoon, often mixed in with a cup of Greek yogurt.
Almost everyone struggles with the temptation to snack on unhealthy food. You’ve probably heard it before, but choosing not to buy unhealthy snack foods goes a long way in keeping yourself healthy. That way, when a craving strikes, you won’t have any junk food in the house. Whenever you can, try to choose a healthy and frugal option first, before you open a bag of cookies or chips.
Do you have favorite frugal and healthy snack recipes? Please share your comments below.