The key to choosing a sensible snack as a reward for sticking to your healthy eating and exercise regimen is to choose something that is filling, nutritious, has fewer than 200 calories, and is indulgent enough to feel like a true treat.
Fruit, which is naturally sweet, is packed with nutrients. Try freezing grapes, cherries, or sliced bananas--this new taste and texture will excite your taste buds and take longer to eat since they're frozen. Fresh fruit drizzled with a tablespoon of melted chocolate chips tastes decadent but is low-calorie and full of beneficial antioxidants. Sticking with the fruit theme, try frozen juice bars or make your own in paper cups in the freezer (just be sure to use 100% fruit juice).
Traditional cookie or cake recipes can be modified to make them more nutritious and less calorie-dense by using applesauce or Greek yogurt in place of butter or oil, egg whites in place of whole eggs, and whole-wheat flour in place of half the recipe's flour. If you're likely to overeat when you make your own treats at home, opt for single-serving sizes of the indulgence you're craving. Individually wrapped ice-cream desserts or 100-calorie cookie packs help you keep portions in check.
Candy, as long as you practice portion control, can feel much like a reward. Candies that contain dark chocolate, dried fruit, or nuts provide health benefits such as antioxidants, fiber, and vitamins and minerals, while also satisfying your sweet tooth.
If your idea of rewarding food brings to mind all things starchy, reach for granola bars that have chocolate, peanut butter, or fruit. Some granola bars even taste like dessert. FiberOne Chewy Bars have flavor components such as chocolate, caramel, mocha, strawberry, and apple streusel. Other starchy but healthy treats include whole-wheat waffles with light syrup, graham crackers with jam, and 100-calorie packs of kettle corn popcorn. Popcorn is a whole grain and you can pair it with a few M&Ms or raisins for extra sweetness. Angel food cake is relatively low in calories and can be a vehicle for a variety of healthy additions. Top it with berries and light whipped cream, melted dark chocolate, or peanut butter.
Other healthy foods cleverly disguised as dessert include nonfat frozen yogurt topped with granola, Greek yogurt with a little honey, or sugar-free pudding cups with whole-wheat crackers. These all have calcium, a nutrient crucial for healthy muscles and bones.
Treats can be both celebratory and nutritious if you choose the right foods. So go ahead, indulge in one of these sweet treats that are sneakily healthy.
Kari Hartel, RD, LD is a Registered Dietitian and freelance writer based out of St. Louis, MO. Kari is passionate about nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease through a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Kari holds a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Southeast Missouri State University and is committed to helping people lead healthy lives. She completed a yearlong dietetic internship at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, IL, where she worked with a multitude of clients and patients with complicated diagnoses. She planned, marketed, and implemented nutrition education programs and cooking demonstrations for the general public as well as for special populations, including patients with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, obesity, and school-aged children. Contact Kari at KariHartelRD@gmail.com.