For more on why we often crave more at night, check out my FUELED Wellness + Nutrition podcast on the Science of Sleep, where I’m joined by behavioral neuroscientist Erin Hanlon, PhD.
Nighttime eating can be an Achille’s heel for many, a time of day that feels out of control. But having a strategically planned snack after dinner isn’t inherently a bad thing, and it can actually have its benefits.
Incorporating a small protein-rich snack in those hours between dinner and bedtime can prevent you from waking up hungry through the night (not uncommon for those cutting back calories in efforts to lose weight), plus it can help to minimize muscle losses that naturally occur while we’re sleeping.
But since late-night snacking typically has less to do with legitimate physical hunger and is more about satisfying a craving or filling an emotional gap, the oft-suggested sipping hot tea or nibbling on fresh fruit or veggies just might not cut it.
So we’ve got you covered with a variety of good-for-you bedtime snack ideas, ranging from savory to sweet, crunchy to velvety smooth, and creamy coldness to warm crispiness. And these snacks aren’t just ‘not bad’, they’re actually good for you. All are relatively low in calories, plus they can help to boost your daily intake of nutrients like protein, calcium, and whole-food fiber.
Protein-rich cereal topped with unsweetened almond milk. A serving of Kay’s Natural’s cereal packs in 12 grams of protein plus a dose fiber. Pump up the protein by using a ready-to-drink protein shake in place of almond milk. One of my favorites is ICONIC ready-to-drink protein drink. Added bonus: it’s an excellent source of electrolytes like potassium and calcium. Reader Perk: Use promo code NOLA2020 at www.kaysnaturals.com for 20% off through 2020.
Smoothie: Keep it protein-rich and lower in carbs by blending a scoop of protein powder (any variety with less than four grams of sugar per 20 grams of protein) with unsweetened vanilla almond milk, half a cup of berries (fresh or frozen, with no sugar added), and no-calorie plant-based sweetener of choice (optional). And you can always mix things up with spices and herbs: think chipotle powder with mango, fresh basil with strawberries, or cilantro with pineapple.
Parmesan Popcorn. Two to three cups of air-popped popcorn spritzed with an olive oil mister or spray butter, and topped with grated Parmesan cheese along with (optional) salt-free seasoning of choice.
Greek-berry protein popsicles. They’re really so easy. Just blend one 7-ounce carton of plain low-fat Greek yogurt with half a cup of blueberries and no-calorie sweetener of preference, to taste. Divide into two popsicle molds (or Dixie cups with wooden popsicle stick) and freeze until completely firm, about 3-4 hours.
Peanut butter surprise. Created by Alexis Weilbaecher, one of our registered dietitians at Ochsner Fitness Center, this cool and creamy sweet treat is a hit with her clients: Combine cottage cheese and firm tofu, one cup each, with ¾ cup peanut butter or almond butter, a tablespoon of Swerve, one tablespoon of honey, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract and a dash of cinnamon, and blend until super smooth. Yields six to eight servings.
Chocolate protein pudding. There are countless ways to make protein pudding, but this version is one of the quickest and easiest: Mix one scoop of low-sugar chocolate protein powder with one 7-ounce carton of plain 2% Greek yogurt, blend until completely smooth, then refrigerate until set. Serve plain, or topped with a spoonful of whipped topping, a teaspoon of dark chocolate chips or fresh berries. Even if you’re not crazy about plain Greek yogurt, give this a try; the sweetness of the protein powder helps to offset the tartness, and gives the yogurt a creamy, pudding-like consistency.
Cinnamon toast. A fiber-rich sweet treat with the potential health benefits of cinnamon, which may aid in blood sugar control. Top a slice of 100% whole grain bread with a thin schmear of coconut oil, sprinkle with cinnamon and Swerve and toast in the oven until golden brown and crispy.
Molly Kimball, RD, CSSD is a registered dietitian + nutrition journalist in New Orleans, and founder of Ochsner Eat Fit nonprofit restaurant initiative. Tune in to her podcast, FUELED | Wellness + Nutrition and follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at @MollyKimballRD. See more of Molly’s articles + TV segments at www.mollykimball.com.