The habits of yuppies have been getting so much press attention recently that a story about what they eat should come of no surprise. Grazing--the practice of snacking throughout the day instead of settling down to the traditional three-meals-a-day routine--has been adopted by the young urban professionals who are forgoing full-course dining and opting for quick, yet nutritious mini-meals to get them through the day. But yuppies are not the only ones interested in healthful daylong snacking.
Apparently, according to a recent survey by MRCA Information Services of Stamford, Conn., age, economic and marital status all affect snacking habits, with those younger than 45 and single being the most frequent grazers outside the home. They snack 30% more often than the rest of the country--attributable mostly to the fast-food era during which the yuppies grew up. Middle-income people, followed by high-income earners and then low-income people are also following the grazing trend.
In the home or on the run, grazers usually choose quick snacks that require minimal or no preparation. When dining out, they are eating appetizers and desserts and skipping the entree completely. But snacking is not new. What is new is the type of foods that are being chosen. According to MRCA's "Snacking Trends" survey, which sampled 5,500 people in 2,000 households, Americans are not snacking any more often than they did during the past 26 years.
Preferences, however, are what have changed. Yuppies are choosing healthful alternatives to the sweet and salt-ridden snacks of days past. Yogurt and popcorn are on the rise with grazers, whereas cheese and granola bars are on the way out. Frozen juice bars have gained popularity by 70% during the past year, and Mexican and Oriental foods--especially egg rolls--are the latest "in" snacks, according to the study.
But wouldn't that much nibbling lead to overeating? Evidently not, according to Cheryl Loggins, president of the California Dietetic Assn., provided that you keep careful account of exactly what and how much food has been eaten.
"It really doesn't matter whether you eat three times a day or 10," Loggins said, "so long as you keep your calories in check and make sure the kind of snack foods you eat are nutritious and contribute to a balanced diet."
Some people underestimate their actual intake, which can lead to excess pounds and an expanding waistline, so the association recommends filling out a food diary, noting each bite you take for a day or two so that you can see where cutbacks in your diet can be made.
If you're concerned about too much fat in your diet you may also want to limit your intake of foods like peanuts and peanut butter, shredded coconut, bacon, potato chips, pecans, macadamia nuts and sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds, cautions the association, since these have high fat tallies.
In its recently published "Snack Almanac," the association offers some healthful tips and trade-offs for grazers. It suggests substituting raw vegetables, bread sticks, saltines, rice cakes and matzos for chips and crackers; dips made with cottage cheese or low-calorie salad dressings instead of sour cream or cream cheese dips; pretzels, plain popcorn and soy nuts instead of nuts; homemade bran muffins, bagels or whole-wheat English muffins for doughnuts or sweet rolls, and dried or fresh fruits, vanilla wafers and graham crackers for candy and cookies.
Some other snack trades are plain angel food cake or baked apples for frosted cakes or pies, and fruit juice diluted with soda water, chilled vegetable juice, iced tea or sparkling water with a slice of lemon or lime for soft drinks.
Conscientious Snack Routine
"If you're going to make grazing a habit," Loggins said, "the best strategy for maintaining good health is to opt for snacks that are lower in calories and salt and high in nutrients."
She concluded that foods like milk, fresh and dried fruits, vegetables, string cheese, hard-cooked eggs, cottage cheese, yogurt and tuna packed in water all have a place in a conscientious snacking routine. Whole-grain breads and crackers and peanut butter are other good possibilities. An added bonus: All of these foods require little or no preparation--a real coup for people who feel they don't ever have time to sit down and eat a regular meal, Loggins said.
But what, then, does one serve when entertaining grazers who will certainly balk at a full-course formal dinner? A challenge, at best, but plan to build a menu around interesting, good-quality finger foods that are both nutritious and attractive.