Need a healthy quick snack? This article shares the ins and outs of healthy snacking, along with a quick healthy snacks list! (And I mean quick - all of these work as on-the-go snacks or something you can grab-and-go from a convenience store.)
Snacking refers to any food you eat during the day outside of your main meals. Typically snacks contain smaller amounts of food than meals. And there are many reasons you may snack:
- Food insecurity
- Your food environment
- Social culture
- Food culture
But is snacking itself healthy?
There is a lot of debate and disagreement on whether or not snacking is healthy, but truly (like all things health and nutrition) - it's nuanced and individualized. (But spoiler alert: snacking absolutely can be healthy!)
Is Snacking Bad?
As a dietitian, I would never say snacking is bad, because it can be associated with many benefits! But studies show that those snacking when not hungry or eating due to mental or emotional stress, often turn to snacks high in sugar and fat. This energy-dense snacking can lead to:
- An overall higher calorie intake
- Potential weight gain (Note that weight gain is not inherently good or bad - it has no morality. Weight is just one thing to be aware of, as it's one tiny health-related metric.)
- Less space in your diet for more nutrient-dense foods
- Decreased hunger at meal times
- Difficulty understanding your hunger and fullness cues
Benefits of Snacking
But snacking can be beneficial for your health. Snacking may provide benefits such as:
- A way to ensure you're eating enough calories (particularly helpful for those who may be experiencing appetite-inhibiting medical conditions, treatments, or medications).
- Opportunities to add more nutrient-dense foods to your diet (especially fruits and vegetables, as most kids and adults alike don't eat enough).
- May help promote steadier blood sugar control.
- Not letting your hunger get out of control, which could lead to overeating at your next meal or later in the day.
And while the benefits of snacking on weight loss is mixed, research shows that some folks find snacking helps. Snacking, or smaller meals consumed more frequently, may help some individuals feel good and better manage their hunger.
Snacking and whether or not it's health-promoting for you will always be highly individualized and dependent on your needs, types of snacks consumed, your overall eating pattern, why you're snacking, and more.
How Often Should You Snack?
There's no real right or wrong answer for how often you should snack. Snacking is very individualized, so you need a snacking strategy that fits your lifestyle.
Here are a few things to consider when you're finding a snacking balance that feels good to you:
Do you frequently snack or graze between most of your meals?
This is a sign that you may not be eating enough at your meals. Even if your meals are high in volume (i.e. large salads, giant smoothies), that doesn't mean they have enough food or enough of all three macronutrients (carbs, fat, protein) to keep you fueled for more than a couple hours.
Do you end up very snacky in the afternoons and evenings?
Are you eating enough protein?
This is a sign you may not be eating enough earlier in the day. I've worked with many folks who've discovered that prioritizing a balanced breakfast keeps them feeling more in control of their hunger all day long.
All macronutrients are important, but I find that clients that don't eat much protein often complain of feeling more snacky and less in control of their hunger. Needs will vary, but aim for at least 20-30 grams of protein at each meal.
How long are you waiting between meals?
A general eating timeframe is to eat something every 3-4 hours. If you find your meals are 5, 6, 7, or more hours apart, try adding a snack in between.
How Big Should a Snack Be?
Snack sizing is another aspect of snacking that is very individualized. Generally a snack is something to help carry you between meals. How much you need is going to depend on how hungry you are, how long until your next meal, etc.
How to Make a Balanced Snack
Aim to include protein, fiber, and healthy fat in your snacks to help keep them more balanced and you more satisfied.
An easy way to think about this is to pair two macronutrients in a snack, like pairing protein and fat, protein and carbs, or fat and carbs.
Quick, Healthy Snacks
This is a pretty comprehensive list of some quick, healthy snacks that you can either take with you on-the-go, or grab-and-go from a convenience store.
Most trail mixes primarily consist of carbs and fat. Shelf-stable, it makes a great on-the-go snack. If you're looking for ultimate convenience, you can buy individually-portioned trail mix packs. Or if you want to tailor your trail mix just how you like it, you can mix up a big batch and store in an airtight container for when you need it.
There are so many different bars out there, but typically energy bars, bites, and balls have primarily fat and carbohydrates. You can purchase energy bars, like GoMacro Bars, Perfect Bars and Rx Bars at many stores. You can also make homemade energy bites to have on hand all week, like my PB&J Energy Bites, No Bake Peanut Butter Energy Balls, and Oatmeal Raisin Energy Bites.
While most energy bars aren't super high in protein, there are protein bars you can find and make. My personal favorite protein bar brand is Barebells, but I know many others who enjoy bars like Quest Bars, G2G Bars, and Built Bars.
Nuts & Seeds
Nuts and seeds are a fantastic snack in and of itself. They're full of healthy fats, with some protein and fiber present, and can easily pair with other foods. Try adding nuts or seeds to Greek yogurt for more protein, or pair with carbs like fruit or chocolate for something sweet. Grab them at grocery stores and gas stations, or stock your pantry with fun flavored, grab-and-go portioned nuts and seeds:
- Hot & Spicy Sunflower Seeds
- Roasted & Salted Pistachios (or this variety pack!)
- Cocoa Dusted Almonds
- Cashew, Almond, & Macadamia Mixed Nuts
- Roasted Salted Pumpkin Seeds
Chocolate milk actually has a great balance of protein and carbs (potentially fat, too, depending on the type of milk). It's actually a classic post-workout drink, that happens to be pretty quick and easy, too.
Stock up on shelf-stable chocolate milk for easy, healthy snacks (or use Ripple's Chocolate Non-Dairy Milk with 8 grams of Pea Protein for a dairy-free option).
Or...I know this sounds nuts, but hear me through...hit up a McDonald's drive through and ask for a kid's chocolate milk.
I know! I sound like an insane dietitian (hey, I did promise to share practical nutrition tips!). But McDonald's actually uses a mix of cane sugar and monk fruit in their chocolate milk, making it the lowest in added sugar I've seen.
This may be another surprising quick, healthy snack, but a latte is actually pretty balanced! Choosing dairy or soy milk adds protein and fat in the latte, as well as carbs. A latte is a small snack, so if you're hungrier, pair it with fruit, nuts, crackers, an energy bite, or some popcorn.
Did you know popcorn is a whole grain? If you're a volume eater, popcorn can be a particularly fun snack, as a whopping 3 cups has around 100 calories and over 3 grams of fiber. Pair it with nuts or jerky for a more balanced quick and healthy snack.
Jerky or Meat Sticks
Jerky and meat sticks have been coming back in popularity, but for good reason! They easily add protein and fat to quick healthy snacks. Meat sticks can be high in sodium, so choose lower sodium options when possible.
Popular brands include Chomps, The New Primal, Lorissa's Kitchen, and Vermont Smoke & Cure Meat Sticks. Thrive Market has their own brand for a better price, too (use my affiliate link for 40% off your first order!)
Crunchy Broad Beans
These crunchy little snacks are high in protein and fiber and come in fun flavors, like Sea Salt, Sweet Sriracha, and Mesquite BBQ. Enjoy as is, or pair with a cheese for fat, or fruit or vegetables for more volume, nutrients, and a fresh crunch. And packaged individually, they're perfect quick healthy snacks to grab-and-go or stash in your purse, backpack, desk, or car.
My kids and I are obsessed with crunchy chickpeas. They're a high-fiber carb that has a little protein, too. You can find several brands making lots of different flavors of crunchy chickpea snacks. Try these grab-and-go individual packs of Sea Salt Chickpeas or Sweet Sriracha Chickpeas.
Fruit is a fiber-rich carbohydrate, so you may find pairing it with a fat or protein helps you stall fuller longer. Try pairing fruit with cheese, jerky, nuts and seeds, nut butter, or a protein shake.
And while many fresh fruits make grab-and-go quick healthy snacks, like apples, bananas, peaches, and oranges, feel free to branch out, too. Try dried fruits (aim for no added sugars) for something chewy and freeze-dried fruit for some crunch.
Edamame is a legume, a plant-based protein and fiber-rich carb that can be a delicious and satisfying addition to your quick healthy snacks. You can buy edamame fresh at some stores, like Trader Joe's, or frozen (this may be weird, but I actually love snacking on frozen shelled edamame).
Depending on the time of day you're looking for a snack, you can also stop at a Japanese or sushi restaurant and order an appetizer of edamame to go.
Another crunchy quick and healthy snack, crunchy dry roasted edamame is also high in fiber-rich carbohydrates and protein. Fun fact about edamame: it's actually a complete protein, meaning the protein that's present provides all essential amino acids.
Enjoy as is or pair with some cheese, nuts, seeds, fruit, or vegetables.
Cheese is a favorite addition to quick healthy snacks! But beyond it being delicious, nutritionally cheese provides fat and some protein, too. It's the perfect thing to pair with fiber-rich carbs like fruit and popcorn, to create a more balanced and satisfying snack.
You can buy individually portioned grab-and-go cheese snacks, string cheese, and babybel cheeses at grocery stores and even many gas stations.
Crunchy Cheese Crisps
Not feeling soft cheese or want a shelf-stable alternative? Try crunchy cheese crisps. These are simply cheese that's been oven baked or dehydrated, some even available in bar form! It packs the same nutrition as regular cheese, just crunchy and shelf-stable.
Yogurt of all types absolutely are quick healthy snacks. Go for a Greek or Icelandic-style yogurt if you want a higher protein option. And be mindful of added sugar - some yogurts have more than half the added sugar that the American Heart Association recommends for a whole day! Oikos Triple Zero, Chobani Zero Sugar, and Siggi's are great options for low and no added sugars.
For a more filling snack, try pairing yogurt with nuts or seeds, granola, fruit, and/ or mini chocolate chips.
If you're a cottage cheese fan, it's a delicious protein-packed snack that can swing savory or sweet. Individual containers are easily available at any grocery store, and some gas stations, too.
For extra satiety, choose a cottage cheese with a little fat content. You could also pair the cottage cheese with other foods, like fruit, crackers, or sliced vegetables, too.
Vegetables are a fantastic addition to quick healthy snacks. They're a great way to add more nutrients, more fiber, and more volume. In fact, adding vegetables to a snack is an easy way to help get in your daily fruits and vegetables.
There are many (many!) options, between grab-and-go salads, individually packaged baby carrots, or slicing and packing vegetables to eat on-the-go.
Try pairing vegetables with fat and/ or protein, though, to make your snack more satisfying. Some ideas include:
- Bell pepper slices & guacamole
- Carrots & ranch dressing (try mixing ranch seasoning in greek yogurt for a protein-rich, satisfying dip!)
- Cherry tomatoes & fresh mozzarella & balsamic glaze & basil
- Cucumbers & hummus or tzatziki
- Celery & cream cheese or peanut butter
If you're a fan of protein shakes, they can be quick, healthy snacks perfect for on-the-go. Whether you shake or blend your own before heading out the door, or you keep shelf-stable options on hand, there are many options.
For homemade protein smoothies, try my Watermelon Banana Smoothie, Banana Peach Smoothie, and Chocolate Cherry Black Forest Smoothie. You can also blend protein in any smoothie - check out this list of 40 whole food (not powder!) proteins for smoothies.
There are many shelf-stable protein shakes on the market. Some of my personal favorites are the CorePower, CorePower Elite, and Fairlife Protein Shake. Need a little caffeine, too? Try adding a strawberry Fairlife to matcha, or a chocolate Fairlife to cold brew. It's so good!
Crackers are a classic snack food. Look for crackers that contain whole grains (they will contain fiber and the first ingredient will be whole wheat or another whole grain). Alternatively, look for crackers that are nut or seed based. Some of my favorite crackers include Triscuit Thin Crisps and Simple Mills Almond Flour Crackers (their Farmhouse Cheddar and Original Seed Flour Crackers are also awesome!).
Pair crackers with a fat or protein source for better staying power. Crackers pair well with nut butter, nuts, cheese, guacamole, and deli meat.
Tuna is a convenient protein perfect for quick healthy snacks. You can purchase the tuna in tearable packets for on-the-go eating.
Tuna is high in protein, but may prove more satisfactory if you pair it with either fat or carbs. Many convenience stores sell tuna and crackers packaged together (or a "Lunch to Go" option)-- which is a great idea! You could also try these Wild Tuna White Bean Salads that are ready to eat from Wild Planet.
Turkey Roll Ups
Turkey roll ups are an easy protein and fat snack! Place a slice of cheese on top of a slice of deli turkey, then roll it up! They're great as is, or you can add other things to the roll up, too, like alfalfa sprouts, dijon mustard, hot sauce, or wrap it all up in a lettuce wrap.
Guacamole is full of heart healthy fats and fiber, and a perfect dip or spread for tortilla chips, veggie slices, turkey roll ups, crackers, and more. For the ultimate grab-and-go convenience, buy individually portioned guacamole containers - perfect for quick healthy snacks!
Olives make a great snack! They're full of heart healthy fats and pair well with some crackers for some added carbs and fiber. I've seen olive snack packs at most grocery stores, and even some gas stations, for quick convenience.
Want a little more flavor? Try this snacking green olives variety pack with flavors like chili and oregano, basil and garlic, lemon and rosemary, and chili and garlic.
Sandwiches or Wraps
Sandwiches and wraps aren't just reserved for lunch - they make quick, healthy snacks, too! You can make a basic wrap with deli meat, lettuce, tomato, and cheese and have a satisfying, balanced snack. You can also find prepared sandwiches and wraps available at many shops and stops.
Hard Boiled Eggs
Hard boiled eggs may be a bit of a cliché as far as quick healthy snacks go, but it's for a reason! A hard boiled egg is convenient and contains protein, fat, and many essential vitamins and minerals. You can boil your own (I love making hard boiled eggs in the Instant Pot for the easiest egg peeling!), or buy pre-boiled anywhere from gas stations to Costco.
Try pairing with crackers or fruit for a more balanced snack.
Restaurants like Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts offer egg bites or omelet bites, and they make for a delicious protein-filled snack. And while you're there, if you feel like adding a little more to your snack, pair it with a latte!
Smoothies are quick and easy to blend up for a healthy snack, or to grab one while out and about. One word of advice if stopping at a smoothie shop, is ask if they put sugar in their smoothies. I worked at a popular smoothie chain franchise in college and was absolutely shocked to learn most of their smoothie recipes came with ¼ cup turbinado sugar in each smoothie!
You can also try blended smoothie yogurt drinks available at stores. Just keep added sugar in mind, as it can add up quickly. Check out Chobani Complete shakes in your store's refrigerated section. For shelf-stable options, check out Noka Superfood Smoothie Pouches, Designer Wellness Protein Smoothie Pouches, and Fuel for Fire Protein Smoothie Pouches (whey and plant-based available).
If making a smoothie at home, check out my guide on the NTF 5-a-Day Smoothie. It's the easiest way to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables at once!
Many folks think of hummus as a protein, but it's actually more fat and carbs than it is protein. But it can still be a part of many quick, healthy snacks! Try making a mini snack platter, with hummus, veggies, crackers, and hard boiled eggs for a delicious snack break. Grab-and-go hummus containers offer added convenience and can frequently be found at many gas stations and convenience stores.
Whatever You're Craving!
Last but not least on this least is a reminder that it is absolutely okay and a normal and necessary part of a healthy lifestyle to balance your cravings and favorite foods.
Maybe that means pairing your favorite drink with your snack (my current fave is Dr. Pepper Zero Sugar!).
Or it could mean including your favorite less nutrient-dense foods as part of a balanced snack. Like pairing cookies or chocolate with almonds or Greek yogurt.
And sometimes it means just eating the chips or whatever else and moving on with your day.
All foods, including your cravings, can fit as part of an overall balanced diet.
Quick Healthy Snacks Recap
Snacking can absolutely be part of an overall healthy eating pattern, and there are many quick healthy snacks to help you out! Whether you need shelf-stable, grab-and-go, on-the-go, or something to quickly make at home, there are many options. Hopefully this list will get you started with all of your quick healthy snacking needs!