Food & nutrition

How to combat those 3pm sugar cravings

The mid-afternoon munchies strike again! Here's how to fight your chocolate cravings, and a selection of healthy snacks to eat instead.
Published 16 September, 2018

You've done it by the book all day. But now it's 3pm, the dreaded afternoon slump hits, and you've got a full-blown case of the munchies. What happens next? You find yourself gobbling down chocolate chip cookies like there's no tomorrow, waving your SmartPoints® budget goodbye.

Why do we crave sweet treats around this time? Perhaps you had an inadequate lunch or skipped breakfast (sure to make you starving later in the day). The late afternoon is often a frazzling time—and stress sends many people straight to the cookie jar. You could be tired, bored or blue, and snacking is a way of passing the time.

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The fact that these cravings are often related to specific foods—cakes, candy bars, chips—indicates that the problem may be a craving rather than a response to genuine hunger. So how to ward off that mid-afternoon snack attack?

Sometimes, snack attacks are conditioned responses to cues associated with sweet treats, such as a mid-afternoon coffee break. To identify such cues, American Dietetic Association member Jackie Newgent, RD, suggests drawing a chain. "Write in each link the activities that lead up to inappropriate snacking." This might include:

3 p.m. Stomach growling.

3:30 p.m. Anxious to go home.

4:10 p.m. Go to kitchen to get a hot drink.

4:15 p.m. Help yourself to a biscuit. Or 5.

"The best way to break this chain is to do it at the earliest link possible," says Newgent. "In this case, you might want to plan a healthful snack at 3 p.m. since you're hungry."


Late-afternoon snack attack tips


  • Wait five minutes and see if the urge passes.
  • Avoid temptation: Don't food shop at this time; don't go near the vending machine; cut out mid-afternoon TV. (Being bombarded with junk food ads will just put you in the mood).
  • Make a list of alternative activities: writing an email, go for a walk.
  • Eat a good breakfast and lunch. Favour foods that are slowly digested and will keep you full longer, such as wholegrain bread and high fibre cereals, beans and vegetables.

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Healthy snack ideas

There is nothing wrong with snacking: It's what you eat that matters. If you find yourself craving potato chips or chocolate bars, substitute nutritious low-calorie options from the list below. You should also look for snacks high in protein and fibre rich foods that will help keep you full.

Really hungry

  • Vegetable/bean soup
  • Slice of wholegrain bread with peanut butter
  • Unsweetened high fibre cereal with skim milk
  • Vegetable sticks and tomato salsa

Need a nibble

  • Slice of wholegrain bread with jam
  • Sweetened, high fibre cereal with skim milk
  • Low-fat granola bar

Just want to munch

  • Fresh or dried fruit
  • Low-fat, artificially-sweetened yogurt
  • Fruit smoothie made with skim milk
  • Pretzels, breadsticks or rice cakes
  • Plain, air-popped popcorn
  • Fat-free hot cocoa made with skim milk

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