by Marion Nestle
Feb 29 2012

Nutritionist’s Notebook: healthy snacks

My weekly Q and A for NYU’s student newspaper, Washington Square News

Nutritionist’s Notebook: Snacks on a schedule

by Marion Nestle

Published February 28, 2012

Marion Nestle is the Paulette Goddard professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. She is the author of “Food Politics” and, most recently, “Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics.” Each week, she will answer student questions about nutrition, health, and food. 

Question: Do you have quick food recommendations for busy students who tend to skip breakfast/lunch or who don’t have time due to busy scheduling? Are there any grab-and-go options that you would recommend?

Answer: From the perspective of nutrition, two principles apply to on-the-go food. Look for fruits and vegetables whenever you can get them, and choose foods that are as unprocessed as possible. The closer you can get to eating basic foods, the more nutrients they contain for their calories — in nutrispeak, they are of high nutrient density.

To see what options might be available, I went to the dining hall at the Kimmel Student Center. Alas, chips are at every counter and cash register. You can do better.

Some healthy choices are obvious: bananas, pears and five kinds of apples. Others are carrot packs, yogurt, hard-cooked eggs, and hummus with pretzels.

You have to search hard for the other interesting options. A helpful manager pointed to snack packs of organic dried banana chips, mangos and goldenberries. Goldenberries look like raisins, which would be another good choice, but I didn’t see any. I also didn’t find any packages of nuts. These are great as long as you don’t eat too many. If you want your dorm cafeteria to carry items like this, ask!

Sandwiches work if they are not too big and unwieldy. The Pret a Manger on Astor Place offers half sandwiches in a stiff, thin cardboard. These are easy to eat on the run.

I avoid power bars. They violate my “no more than five ingredients” rule and I don’t particularly like the way they taste. If I want something sweet, I’ll go for the dark chocolate Brazil nuts I found at Kimmel. If you just eat a couple at a time, they are worth the price.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Feb. 28 print edition. Marion Nestle is a contributing columnist. Email her at

  • Pingback: News Feed: February 29, 2012 | JBF Food Conference()

  • Unfortunately, an apple or pear or carrot sticks, even with houmous doesn’t do much to tide you over the 5-6 hour interval between meals, while walking around campus. Do consider nuts with the fruit, or those multi-ingredient-but-more-calorically-appropriate items like Clif bars. The alternative is excessive hunger at the next meal resulting in anything but controlled, appropriate intake!
    And do keep in mind that not everyone needs to be limiting their intake. While that may be the trend in our culture, there are many individuals who would do better by increasing their intake between meals!

  • justthefacts

    That cafeteria has FIVE kinds of apples? Wow!

    When I am looking for an apple at, say, a gas station mini-mart, all I find is an old, woody and unappetizing red delicious–once in a while a similarly tired-looking Granny Smith. Nuts are heavily salted in those packets and it’s difficult not to eat the whole thing, which is at least two servings, often more. The carrots in the veggie packs look dead and dried out and the celery the same. Celery gives “good snack” a bad name to begin with! How about some colored peppers. And forget the oily dip–at least I can toss that.

    Industry says people don’t buy healthy snacks, but the only reason I don’t is due to the very poor quality.

  • Michael Bulger

    I stopped buying Cliff Bars when I realized they were 250 calories and about a third of that was from sugar. Last time I looked, the main ingredient was brown rice syrup. This apparently consists of maltrose, glucose, and maltotriose, all of which are sugars.

    They add a couple more sweeteners after that, which places Cliff Bars in my pass column. If I’m buying nuts or oats on campus, I’d like to spend my money on nuts or oats. Not a sugar bar.

  • @ Michael Yes, it has a bit more than a tsp of sugar of the 250 calories, along with a range of other nutrients, that’s the amount from a large apple. And for active college students, 250 is not a high level for most. Of course there are plenty of other healthier snacks (if the question wasn’t about practical snacks on the run for college students.)

  • Tanya

    I agree with Mitzi. I’m not sure why breakfast (even basic oatmeal with fruit) couldn’t be eaten at home while reviewing emails or studying. Have we really moved away from the idea of making our own meals? It’s so much faster and more efficient than waiting in line. Sandwiches can be made at home and taken with.

  • Katherine

    To the commenters above who criticize students for not making time for a full sit-down meal, I would like to point out that this is simply impossible for many students, myself included. I am a biochemistry major, and I have lecture or recitation every day 12pm-1pm. Four days of the week, I then have lab (where food is strictly not allowed) from 1pm to 5pm. I have no choice but to eat lunch in lecture/recitation or go without food until after 5pm.

    That said, I pack a lunch every day to save money and eat healthier. I generally eat sliced veggies (cucumbers, celery, or carrots) with some kind of hummus or homemade bean/tofu dip and whole wheat pita bread. It doesn’t take me long to prepare and a little effort planning ahead pays off. I believe part of college life is learning to take care of yourself, and feeding yourself is part of that.

  • There aren’t many practical products on the market for managing snacking (or giving healthy ideas) – except The SnackTime Survival Kit by Beanstalk Express. The board is great for younger kids, but 29 snack cards are universal.

  • Pingback: Saturday Surfing - Au Coeur()