Your guide to afternoon hunger

What to do when you need a 3 p.m. snack.
Published October 30, 2015

There are a lot of reasons you may feel snackish in the middle of the afternoon. 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 may lead to emotional eating. You could be tired, bored or blue, and snacking is a way of passing the time.

If you really want to eat a specific food—cakes, candy bars, chips—you may be experiencing a craving rather than a response to genuine hunger. So how to ward off that mid-afternoon snack attack?

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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 beverage.

4:15 p.m. Eat a vending machine snack.

"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 television. (Being bombarded with food ads: not helpful).
  • Make a list of alternative activities: writing an email, go on a walk.
  • Eat a good breakfast and lunch. Favor foods that are slowly digested and will keep you full longer, such as wholegrain bread and high-fiber cereals, beans and vegetables.

It's OK to Enjoy Snacks

To be clear: Snacking is not inherently bad! Some days you might not want to fight the urge, and that's totally OK. Some snack ideas to consider when you just want a small nibble:

  • Slice of whole-grain bread with peanut butter or jam
  • Veggie sticks and salsaCup of vegetable/bean soup
  • Cup of vegetable/bean soup
  • Sweetened, high-fiber cereal with almond milk
  • Low-fat granola bar
  • Piece of fresh fruit
  • Low-fat yogurt
  • Fruit smoothie made with skim milk
  • Serving of pretzels, crunchy breadsticks, or rice cakes
  • Air-popped popcorn with dried herbs or spices

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