Working minimeals into your schedule

January 16, 1994|By Kim Pierce | Kim Pierce,Contributing Writer Universal Press Syndicate

For those of us who are caught up in breakfast, lunch and dinner, nibbling throughout the day can be as easy as dividing by two.

"It's not difficult to do -- taking a meal and splitting it up into two meals," says Dr. Ronni Chernoff, associate director of the Geriatric Research Education and Clinical Center at McClellan Veterans Hospital in Little Rock, Ark.

True enough, if you eat traditional meals and aren't pressed for time.

But if you're on a short leash -- because of work or other demands -- it's all but impossible to fit six little meals into a day.

One strategy is to shrink the three squares and expand on snacks. Or, if you're really on the go, snack from morning to night, grabbing five minutes where you can, to eat a bagel and piece of fruit, or half a roast beef sandwich. Six times a day, and you've snacked your way to sufficient nutrition.

Ideally, "snacking" doesn't mean hitting the vending machine or the cookie jar. Instead, a snack might consist of a yogurt-based shake, raw vegetables and hummus, a small salad with bread or a slice of pizza or quiche -- healthful foods that could just as easily be part of a meal.

The object is to spread calories over the course of your waking hours and eat enough of the right kinds of food to sustain energy and prevent hunger, says dietitian Kathryn Miller.

Vegetarians who follow a low-fat diet also typically are nibblers, says Ms. Miller. Eating many small meals or snacking throughout the day helps them compensate for the absence of meats, which are digested more slowly and delay hunger.

"I would have lunch, but it wouldn't be anything too big," says Kim Barnett, a vegetarian. "It would be, like, chips and dip. Sometimes I'll have a sandwich. Or sometimes cookies. It's not the basic three meals," she says. "Dinner would be more pasta or a salad or lentil loaf [meatless meatloaf], sushi," she says.

June Weston Wilson, author of "Eating Well When You Just Can't Eat the Way You Used To (Workman Publishing, 1987), offers this strategy for non-vegetarians:

"Let's say you're eating out for dinner -- three first courses make a meal," she says. "I might have polenta, and then eggplant and red peppers, and a warm chicken salad with mushrooms and arugula."

The combination contains protein and plenty of complex carbohydrates, both of which keep you feeling fuller longer.

Choosing such strategic foods is essential to successful nibbling, says Ms. Miller -- especially if you're also trying to keep a low-fat profile.

"If we design each time we eat -- meal or snack -- using the low-fat concept, then we don't have that fat in the meal plan to extend the energy and prevent us from getting hungry," she says.

"We are trying to focus more on complex carbohydrates," she says, which include bread, cereals and pasta, especially whole-grain versions. Not surprisingly, these also form the foundation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's food pyramid model for healthful eating.

Eating one or two complex carbohydrates at each break makes the USDA goal of six to 11 servings achievable. A serving might be one flour tortilla, half a bagel or an ounce of uncooked pasta.

The fiber in whole-grain foods is what slows digestion and stretches the time you can go between snacks or meals. "Beans would extend that," Ms. Miller says.

Fruits, she adds, contain more simple sugars, which break down quickly. An apple or pear by itself might keep you going for an hour, she says.

"Add a whole-wheat English muffin to an apple, and you may delay hunger two hours," she says. "Spread a small amount of peanut butter on the English muffin, and you may not feel hungry for three to four hours.

"A soft drink like Coke will last you about 30 minutes," she says. "You may be shaky and hungry in 45 minutes."

Set a goal to include complex carbohydrates every time you eat, and balance the meal with lean protein and a little fat, she says.

"I really want people to see that this isn't so hard," says Ms. Wilson. "A complex carbohydrate is as easy as pasta or a peanut-butter sandwich," she says.

"I want them to see it's everything they like, she says. "It's corn and beans, beans and rice . . . It's artichokes and carrots and butter beans . . . .

"It's so close to what you already know," she says. "It isn't this tremendous shift into something from Mars."

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