You know the routine.  You eat dinner, clean up the kitchen and then settle in for the evening.  After a little while, you’re back in the kitchen, impulsively raiding the refrigerator searching for something to eat. But wait, you just ate not that long ago – why are you already seeking food only to take in unnecessary calories and likely to make unhealthy choices?

Late night snacking defined as food eaten between dinner and before you go to bed at night, is a hard habit to break.  If this nightly indulgence has become routine, here’s 5 simple tips helping curb evening cravings before excess pounds creep up on you. 

Plan your meals

Take a look at your to-do list.  Is meal planning on it?  Likely not. While it may be a low priority, planning healthy meal options throughout the week makes a huge difference in adequately nourishing your body.  Taking a few minutes to plan meals using the myplate method  can steer you away from sporadic snacking and unhealthy eating. 

Pack protein into each meal

Aim for between 25-30 grams of protein at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Protein is digested slowly leaving you feeling fuller longer several hours after a meal.  Spreading protein intake more evenly at each meal also allows the availability of amino acids our muscles need throughout the day. 

Breakfast can be the hardest meal to get in substantial protein so it’s okay to strive for 20 grams and then have a mid-morning snack with another 10 grams of protein.  An example of this might be a bowl of oatmeal with milk topped with walnuts to provide approximately 20 grams.  Then have a mid-morning snack of a container of Greek yogurt providing approximately 10-12 grams of protein. 

Fill up with fiber

Many of us lack sufficient fiber.  The average American takes in about 14-15 grams of fiber daily, far lower than the recommended intake which for women is 25 grams a day and for men, 38 grams daily.  The best foods for fiber are plant-based food such as fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, and whole grains.   Eat at least 2 cups of fruit and 2 ½ cups of vegetables each day.  Replace refined white bread with 100% whole wheat breads and whole grain cereals.  Look at the amount of fiber on the nutrition facts label and choose foods with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving. 

Why is fiber so important?  Foods high in fiber take longer to digest helping you feel fuller longer after a meal preventing overeating and weight gain.  Fiber rich foods can also help prevent constipation, hemorrhoids, diverticulitis and help with irritable bowel syndrome. 

Set some ground rules

Most of us have found ourselves eating out of a bag or carton while sitting on the couch watching TV, better known as mindless eating. To break this unhealthy habit, set some new ground rules. Not matter what time of day, but especially at night, put a portion of food into a bowl or onto a plate and put the rest away. Sit at a table away from the TV and fully enjoy your food.

Still hungry after dinner?

People often eat out of boredom, or because of stress, or just out of habit rather than from true hunger. Next time this happens, take a 15- minute pause. Ask yourself, am I hungry, thirsty, tired, bored, or sad? If true hunger is not the answer, find satisfaction by taking a brisk walk, taking a relaxing bath or making a cup of tea. Often by simply waiting a bit, the craving might just pass as you happily find yourself distracted by another activity.

If you’re still hungry after dinner and have ruled out other factors, it’s OK to have a small snack.  Opt for something with protein or fiber to provide satiety and nutrients. Good choices are Greek yogurt, fruit, nuts, veggies with hummus and air-popped popcorn. If you’re craving dessert, keep your portion small and eat slowly and without distractions.