Tracking the snack

Fifth Annual Reader Survey

Our Latest Poll Shows That For Many Readers, Munchies Are No Small Thing

April 11, 2007|By Kate Shatzkin and Brad Schleicher | Kate Shatzkin and Brad Schleicher,Sun reporters

When it comes to our readers and their snacks, the heart and the head are duking it out over what goes in the stomach.

For our fifth annual Taste reader survey, we wanted to know all about your snacking habits. Nearly 700 people told us about their between-meal munching. Nearly all -- 98 percent -- said they ate snacks regularly, and two out of three do so at least twice a day.

As much as they enjoy their snacks, many readers are trying to eat better ones. At the same time, they're easily tempted. More ate vegetables or fruit for a recent snack than ate candy or chips, and nearly one out of three has cut trans fats out of his or her snack routine.

Our follow-up interviews showed that snack preferences can be surprisingly specific. Maria-Elena Perez, 54, of Dundalk reaches for kasseri cheese, a reflection of her Greek heritage. For Enzo Blanks, 22, of West Baltimore, a pack of Grandma's-brand chocolate-chip cookies satisfies his sugar jones. Thirteen-year-old Caroline Davis of Lutherville has been enjoying Berger cookies ever since she tried them while waiting for her mom to give birth to her little brother six years ago.

Yet when a co-worker brings in something unexpected and yummy-looking, or when there's nothing to do around the house, some of our readers become, well, flexible. About 47 percent said they generally reach for a snack because they're stressed, bored or just because it's available -- a number not so far behind the 52 percent who said they had a snack because they were hungry.

Among the survey's other results:

Salty snacks edged out sweet. More than a third of the readers said they recently had munched on crackers, popcorn, pretzels or chips, compared with the 24 percent who had had a cookie or candy.

Late afternoon was cited as a prime snack time by more than half of those who answered.

More eating of snacks seems to take place during the workweek. Sixty-six percent of the readers said they had a snack two or three times a day on weekdays; on weekends, that number dropped to 61 percent.

Those between the ages of 18 to 34 were most likely to have recently had a snack of vegetables or fruit; nearly 1 in 4 chose that category.

Though the health hazards of trans fats are much in the news, they were not top-of-mind for many of the readers who responded. While 28 percent said they would not eat snacks with trans fats, 35 percent said they would sometimes, and the rest said they'd never thought about it. (Of the men who answered the survey, 46 percent were in that last category, compared with 35 percent of women.)

Carl Birkmeyer, 44, of Northeast Baltimore was one of those who had recently eaten fruit -- in his case, straight from a 24-ounce jar of Dole mixed fruit. He keeps the jar in a refrigerator at the main Baltimore County Library, where he works, so that he'll have something healthful to eat when hunger strikes midmorning.

That doesn't always do the trick. "Of course, as you called, I'm eating a chocolate-chip cookie that someone brought to work," he said.

For many readers, snacks seem to provide psychological comfort as well as sustenance. Said Robert Hilker, 67, of Brooklyn Park: "As a child, we never had dessert after a meal. I guess I'm making up for lost time." He said the Klondike bar he often consumes in the evening is "reward for a good [or bad] day."

Like others, Ina Patel, 35, of Hunt Valley said she often finds herself having snacks she hadn't planned on because they're right in front of her, most often as she's baking cookies with her two children. "Easter is a horrible time of year for me because of jelly beans," she said. "I really have a weakness for chewy candy."

On breaks from her job as an administrative adjudicator in Washington, Joan Davenport sometimes buys a bag of peanuts from a street vendor. But Davenport, 54, tries not to keep snacks in her Walbrook Junction home. "It's always there, and I'll just go get it. ... The snack becomes the meal, if I'm not careful." Her weakness is Utz rippled potato chips.

Mikisha Bond, a 30-year-old consumer-affairs manager at Aegon, the insurance company, tries to have pretzels or carrots on hand for a snack around 3 p.m. "It helps the day go faster," she said. But Bond said that because she doesn't have much of a sweet tooth, she's able to resist the cakes that come into the office on co-workers' birthdays. Living with her parents in Lochearn, she gets enough home cooking to stave off eating a snack in the evenings.

Many readers were quite happy with the way they grab a snack and had no plans to change. "The way I snack hasn't really changed, ever," said Blanks, who works at a downtown boutique. "I have a really high metabolism so I can basically eat whatever I want to. So I stick with sweets most of the time."

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