The clock hands are creeping past midnight and you’re five hours into a Parks and Recreation marathon after promising yourself you would only watch one, now you are sleep deprived and in desperate need of a snack—we’ve all been there, sometimes I’m there at least twice a week. I know the New York Times told us eating at night can add extra pounds—even if no one is sure why yet—but sometimes the late night munchies refuse to be ignored.
The best solution is to stock up on snacks that are tasty and at least moderately healthy during your weekly shopping trip so you don’t end up driving to the closest convenience store in the middle of the night to buy all of the Twinkies and Ho Hos (even though Hostess would appreciate your business) when a craving hits. Planning for snacks is the best way to curb the impulse to go straight for the junk food, and it’s not enough to buy pre-made stuff, you need to pick up a few DIY ingredients too.
Popcorn is a classic for a reason, it’s naturally high in fiber and it is a whole grain. Bypass the bagged kind that comes pre-coated in butter and buy plain, or better yet pick up a bag of kernels and pop it on the stove top or in an air popper. Popcorn’s best quality is its versatility: because plain popcorn is the food equivalent of a blank canvas, it provides the perfect excuse to flex your creative culinary muscles. Try grating some fresh Parmesan on top or adding a few drizzles of melted chocolate for a touch of sweetness. If you’re in for something really different, popcorn makes a nice base for a trail mix. This gluten-free recipe from Shape is a nice basic trail mix to get you started, but the sky is the limit in terms of ingredients. If you want to spice up the flavor in a hurry, pick up a couple of bottles of popcorn seasoning to sprinkle onto your hot popcorn the next time you make it.
If you are anything like me, then you need to be tricked into eating fruit, but if you have a sweet tooth it’s the best alternative to ice cream and candy bars. My favorite trick is to turn my fruit into a salad. Grape salad in particular is always a winner at my house. All you need are a few grapes, a block of low-fat (or fat free) cream cheese, walnuts and some brown sugar to whip one up. It’s perfect for those days when you know you are going to be jonesing for something light to snack on while you veg out in front of the TV. Frozen bananas are another make-ahead option and they are even better when paired with an impromptu Arrested Development marathon.
Potato chips are the go-to snack for many Americans, but even the so-called healthy options on the market aren’t what I would call wholesome. If you are craving something with crunch skip the traditional chips and make your own baked pita chips. The Shiksa in the Kitchen blog has a super easy recipe here that you can pair with a hummus dip. If pita chips aren’t your thing keep fresh veggies like baby carrots on hand and indulge in your favorite dip. I also harbor an addiction to Roasted Garlic and Black Bean Tortilla Chips. They’re not exactly the healthiest option, but they’re not diet busters either, especially when you dip them in a basic salsa.
That leaves us with the most tantalizing snack temptation of all: chocolate, for which there is no substitute. When I want chocolate, nothing else will do, but not all chocolate snacks are created equal. Chocolate candy bars tend to be small, but packed with sugar and calories—not the most satisfying prospect. Milk chocolate doesn’t offer up much in the way of health benefits, so skip it and go straight for the dark chocolate. It’s packed with antioxidants and it is easy to find bars filled with nuts or dried fruit. For a two-ingredient treat that’s not only chocolaty, but also elegant, pop these easy chocolate croissants in the oven. All you need are a few chocolate chips and a can of frozen croissants.
If all else fails, don’t forget that those chocolate cereals you don’t let yourself eat in the morning because you are a grownup now suddenly become acceptable after midnight! You never outgrow Cookie Crisps people and as long as you stick with the serving size, they make for a fun snack. The most important rule of snacking is moderation. Snacks should be fun, not guilt-inducing. As long as you keep your pantry stocked with lots of options and remember not to share your popcorn with your gremlin after midnight, you are guaranteed to have a happy snack time.