Snacks versus Treats: What’s the Difference?

Hi there, Mamas!  Snacks are no small part of our life.  According to this article, over 90% of people are snacking at least once a day, with over 20% snacking at least 3-4 times daily.  I’m sure those of you with a diaper bag always make sure it’s stocked with some type of “snacks”, just in case.  I know I do!

So, we know that Americans snack a lot.  But what are we snacking on?  According to that same article, American’s two most common snacks are chips and chocolate.  Hmm… That’s less than ideal, for sure!

“But, Kelly,” you say, “those are snack foods!  Isn’t that what we’re supposed to snack on?”

Not in my book (or my house, or my diaper bag)!  Really, there should be a difference in what we consider “snacks” and “treats”.

RDN Mama’s When Kid-Friendly Food Isn’t

Snacks versus Treats

“Snacking” can get somewhat of a bad rap at times (and no wonder, if our main snacks are those listed above, full of empty calories!).  But really, snacks can be a great way to nourish your body and control hunger between meals.  They prevent you from feeling ravenous and curb the desire to down everything in sight at your next meal.

“Treats” on the other hand, are, according to Merriam-Webster “something pleasant or amusing that is unusual or unexpected; something that tastes good and that is not eaten often.”  See the trend there?  Unusual, unexpected, not often.  Foods to fit this category would probably include some added fat and sugar, with little nutritional value; things that can fit perfectly well into an otherwise healthy diet, on occasion.

It seems to me that we have been swapping “snacks” for “treats” – and our bodies and health are paying for it!

Become Calorie Conscious with this RDN Mama article

Getting Back in Balance

We need to start taking a closer look at what we are considering “snacks.”  Ask yourself these questions to help differentiate snacks and treats and to start snacking smart!

  • Ask if you’re really hungry.  This question can help whether you’re eating an apple or an Oreo.  No matter how healthy your food is, you shouldn’t eat if you’re not hungry.
  • Ask where your food fits on MyPlate.  Does your food fit into one of the five food groups (or a healthy fat)?  If so, there is a good chance that it could be a snack.  {See more on healthy fats here.}

    Where does your food fit?

    Where does your food fit?

  • Ask how your food was prepared.   Is it fried?  Made with whole milk?  Drowning in butter or oil?  Breaded?  Bursting with added sugar?  If the answer is “yes”, you’re most likely eating a treat.
  • Ask if it’s a special occasion.  That family member or close friend’s birthday party?  Maybe it’s okay to indulge with a small piece of cake.  A typical day at the office when you coworker brings in donuts or bagels?  Probably best to skip (or at least limit to once a week).
  • Ask if you see this food helping you to achieve your health goals.  What would happen if you ate this food in this amount every day?  Would it help you get to where you want to be, health-wise – or would it leave you feeling regret the next day?  If you think it can help you reach your goals, it is probably a good snack choice.  If not, it might be in treat territory and the frequency or portion should be monitored.

Learn to Make Informed Food Choices while Grocery Shopping

Building Healthy Snacks

Ideally, snacks will have at least two food groups present.  {A refresher from this article: Healthy Eating is as Easy as 1-2-3}  This can help bring balance to your snacks and ensure that you’re getting a variety of nutrients.  Also, pairing different food groups can help to increase satiety – especially if one food has a lot of fiber, protein, or healthy fats.  Snacks can also be a great reality check to make sure you’re getting at least five servings of fruits and veggies each day!

Some examples of balanced snacks following this pattern could be:

  • veggies and hummus
  • fruit and yogurt
  • an apple and peanut butter
  • low-fat cheese and grapes/whole grain crackers
  • hard-boiled egg and cherry tomatoes

RDN Mama’s Are You Teaching Your Children Nutritional Curse Words

So, there you have it: RDN Mama’s take on snacks vs. treats.  That’s not to say you shouldn’t enjoy a treat once in a while; just be honest with yourself about what you’re eating and, for the most part, eat to nourish your body – instead of just feeding it.


What are your favorite snacks – either at home or on the go?

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