These days it seems that food is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, not just at regular meal times. In fact, Americans today eat about 25% of their calories from snacks, making snacks the equivalent of a fourth meal for most people. (source: IFT)

What sort of snacks do you want to invite into your body? You can make snacks – and their temptation-twin, desserts – part of your healthy lifestyle with tips like these:

Healthy Snacking

  • Popcorn’s a great whole grain snack. Try sprinkling parmesan cheese, Italian herbs, or chile powder on hot popcorn instead of butter and salt.
  • Keep homemade trail mix in an airtight container in the kitchen. Every week top it off, changing up the mix of nuts and dried fruits. No time for breakfast? Grab a handful. Heading for the airport? Fill a baggie for the plane. Running on fumes and dinner’s not ready? Hit the trail mix. A small amount is very filling, and it’s always ready and waiting.
  • Make your kids’ own popsicles with unsweetened fruit juice and fruit, or blend yogurt with fruit juice for a creamier version (orange juice, yogurt and honey make a great creamsicle!). You can find molds at discount stores for $5-$10.
  • Tired of apples and oranges but love their portablity? At the beginning of the week, take 5 minutes to cut up some exotic fruits: mangoes, pineapple, and kiwifruit, with a spash of lime juice to prevent browning. Put in a large container and take to work for afternoon snacks for the entire week. Fruit satisfies your sweet tooth without the sugar crash of vending-machine sweets.
  • When you snack, serve yourself a small dish  of food (popcorn, chips, crackers, and even granola) instead of eating directly out of the bag, especially when relaxing in the evening.
  • Pick a different raw veggie each week for afternoon snacking at the office: carrot sticks, bell pepper strips, or cucumber slices. Enjoy with a small amount of hummus or nut butter if you’re heading for a post-work gym visit!
  • Take your own snacks to movies and when traveling: dried fruit and nuts, homemade cookies, bottled water and juices, or baked chips or pretzels. You’ll save money and calories.
  • Enjoy salsa in place of creamy dips. It’s zippy and full of flavor and antioxidants. Pair it with whole grain chips or baked whole-corn tortilla chips.
  • Are you really hungry? If an apple or some other fruit doesn’t appeal to you, you’re probably not actually hungry – just bored or responding to external food cues.

Healthy Desserts

  • Dessert is anything that satisfies your sweet tooth. It doesn’t have to be loaded with fat, sugar, and calories. Enjoy fruit—fresh, baked, or poached—with a small amount of dark chocolate, a small dollop of ice cream. Your sweet tooth will be blissed out and you won’t be uncomfortably full.
  • For apple-pie taste in just two minutes, microwave sliced, unpeeled apples with cinnamon, and top with a sauce of plain yogurt mixed with a little maple syrup.
  • Opt for “kiddie” sizes in ice cream parlors. Just ask; often kiddie size isn’t listed but is available. You’ll usually get a full scoop and maybe more – the amount that used to pass for a “regular” cone.
  • Dip ripe strawberries in a thin layer of melted dark chocolate, then let cool on wax paper, for an impressive and healthy dessert.
  • A few drops of flavored liqueur can change many fruits from everyday to elegant. Raspberry Chambord is great on peaches, for example, and almond Ameretto works well on strawberries. These liqueurs are often available in tiny bottles, so you can keep a variety on hand without breaking the bank.
  • When baking sweet goods, substitute applesauce for all or part of the oil or butter in your recipes. This works especially well in muffins and quick breads.
  • For an inexpensive, upscale, healthy dessert, try making a fruit granita. Click here for a recipe.