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Cookie Monster vs. Elmo: What is a Healthy Snack?

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“Eat healthy!” Elmo says as you watch Sesame Street.

“Eat healthy!” The school nurse tells your class on the first day of kindergarten.

“Eat healthy!” Your best friend’s mom says as she drops you off at the mall.

“Eat healthy!” Your mom proclaims as she moves you into the dorm for your first year of college.

“Eat healthy!” Your partner says when you tell them about your poor body image.

“Eat healthy!” Your doctor says when your tests come back abnormal.

“Eat healthy!” Your children say as your health continues to decline.

I’ve been hearing it all my life, so why can’t I just EAT HEALTHY?!” You as yourself, exasperated.

As a dietitian, I have no idea what healthy eating means. Seriously. I bet that every single person who has ever uttered the words “eat healthy!” has had a different idea about what they meant.

So it’s no wonder why you can’t eat healthy, everything throughout your life has contradicted itself!

Elmo meant for you to eat protein, carbs, and fruit.

Your school nurse meant for you to eat your lunch and snacks and not talk to your friends the whole time.

Your best friend’s mom was struggling with an untreated eating disorder and was projecting her fear foods onto you.

Your mom wants you to remember to eat breakfast and make room for fruits and vegetables too

Your partner is trying to alleviate your stress about your body, because he/she doesn’t know how to help.

Your doctor means for you to eat more fiber and less saturated fat.

Your children are worried about their parent and don’t know what else to say.

Not only do they mean to eat different foods, they are coming from different states of emotion. We tend to think of food in black and white terms, eat healthy and we’ll be healthy. What we don’t realize is that emotion has a great deal of power over our food choices and the foods recommended to us. If our family/friends have too much anxiety around their own beliefs about health, it can be hard for them to support us in healthy living

We’ve all heard the ambiguous term “healthy snack;” most people will describe some sort of fruit or vegetables, maybe a cheese stick or deli meat. And at the same time say that treats such as cookies or cupcakes are okay ‘sometimes’, but not give any real meaning to how to incorporate fun foods into snacks.

So let’s go back to our first messages about food. Wayyyyy back.

I still have this song from Blues Clues stuck in my head. What kinds of foods are shown? What kinds of food do they NOT show?

In this video, Elmo pretends to eat healthy snacks. Notice what types of food they say are healthy:

And in this video, Cookie Monster is disappointed about being served fruits and vegetables. Notice what foods they leave out that Elmo has in his snacks.

“Where the cookies”??? I feel the same way, Cookie Monster.

But seriously, where are the cookies? Where are the cupcake-ies?

It seems that the only foods deemed the honor of ‘health’ consistently are fruits and vegetables. And yes, these can absolutely be part of a healthy snack. But so can cookies and cupcakes. Let’s break it down:

In my definition, a healthy snack is one that is going to satisfy and fuel you until your next meal.

A cookie alone is likely not going to be filling enough. But neither are carrot sticks.

In patterns of black and white thinking, we can get stuck in having either a “healthy” or “unhealthy” snack. So if we say it’s our sometimes unhealthy snack and try to get full on cookies, we are probably going keep going back for cookies and feel upset that we aren’t satisfied. But if we say it’s a “healthy” day and try to only eat carrots, we might feel there’s something wrong with our body for not being able to stay full.

The Power of ‘And’

What about both? Satisfy AND fuel. By allowing yourself the cookie, you honor your cravings. By allowing yourself the carrots, you honor your fullness needs.

For fullness, we need 3 things: protein, fiber, and fat.

But we often forget about the satisfaction factor. This is where the ‘and’ comes in. You want a combination of fiber, protein, fat, carbs, and something yummy. You may find that sometimes your something yummy is an apple, other times chocolate. You may notice that you are ok with having smaller amounts of protein and fat, but like more carbs. The important thing is that you listen to your own body, not an arbitrary list of rules. Both Elmo and Cookie Monster are right, in their own way!

Below are some ‘and’ snacks. Ones that aim to fuel and satisfy.

Greek yogurt with chocolate chips (Chobani Flips are popular)

Strawberries dipped in chocolate and nuts

Apples dipped in caramel

Banana slices topped with peanut butter and a chocolate chip

Carrots and hummus, with a cookie

Cheetos with a cheese stick

Lettuce dipped in tzatziki

Mini charcuterie board with crackers, honey, apple slices, and cheese

PB and marshmallow fluff sandwich (or nutella)

Leftover cake and berries

Leftover slice of pizza

Cookies and a glass of milk

Candy bar with nuts (snickers, payday, mr good bar, peanut m&ms)

Take Care!