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How do Americans 'snack'?

In another board someone said that Europeans do not snack like Americans do.

So - how do Americans snack?

What counts as a snack, are they eaten instead of or as well as meals?

I am in England - if I am hungry before meal time I tend to have the meal early - but occasionally I will nibble a cracker or eat fruit and delay the meal. Is that different to American snacking?

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  1. We snack like we vote, early and often.

    2 Replies
    1. re: ferret

      Exactly. How *don't* they snack?

      1. re: ferret

        GMTA!! Even before I opened the thread, after reading the headline, my first thought was also, "Early and often."

      2. The non health conscious ones(majority) eat processed foods you normally buy from a supermarket like Oreo cookies, premade apple pies made with artificial ingredients, gallons of ice creams, potato chips, Hershey's chocolate, candies with a lot of artificial colorings and flavors, mediocre baked goods from local bakeries and processed cheese products. Also frozen chicken wings and pizza.

        The healthier ones eat nuts, fruits, dry wholewheat crackers, dried fruits, dark chocolate, berries, yogurt...

        the somewhere in between people eat stuff like pita chips, store bought breakfast cereal bars and other store bought snacks that says something like, lower in sugar, lower in sodium...low fat potato chips, etc. Also stuff like dark chocolate covered dried fruits, etc.

        Snacking in america is depressing as heck.

        4 Replies
        1. re: Monica

          So is all that in addition to meals? Or do snacks=meals?

          Or do people 'graze'?
          (the ranges of foods are no different to what is available in the UK- and I'm sure many people eat junk all day - but it is not normal to do so).

          1. re: Peg

            These claims you're making about the UK are puzzling to me. I appreciate that you don't 'snack' but how do you account for elevenses or afternoon tea? More so here than anywhere else I've lived have I seen time taken out for tea and biscuits.
            And a wander through my town shows a great many people (young and old alike) enjoying crisps whenever.
            But maybe you are referring to grazing and snacking that falls outwith the established times?

            1. re: Lizard

              The snack & candy aisles I've seen in British supermarkets surpass anything I've seen in US supermarkets.

              "(the ranges of foods are no different to what is available in the UK- and I'm sure many people eat junk all day - but it is not normal to do so)."

              I've read statistics that Brits eat, on average, AT LEAST one candy bar a day.

              Not sure how mysterious the "American Way" of snacking is, compared to that or, for that matter, any different.

              The waist sizes are certainly catching up overseas...

              1. re: Lizard

                My grandma and grandpa stopped whatever they were doing twice a day every day for morning and afternoon tea - a cup of tea (made in a pot with real leaves) and a dry biscuit or a little piece of homemade cake about 1 inch square. Aside from the formality of it, I don't really see how that's different from my grabbing a small snack at 11 and 3 (or so)... how does anyone snack? When you get hungry, you get something to eat.

          2. A bag of cheap "tooth busting" tortilla chips and a half gallon of processed canned cheese sauce with a quart of Ranch on the side.

            1. Americans snack a lot. This is how I imagine people get their snacking in, based on my experience with mainstream American culture:

              Get up at 6 am and skip breakfast. Out the door and in the car for an hour or so commuting to work. Approaching work, stop and get a drive through coffee and breakfast. The coffee is loaded with creamer (either real or artificial) and sugar(real or artificial) and the breakfast is fatty and low in nutrients. This calorie bomb lasts for a good 3 hours until the caffeine starts to wear off. You work in a building with no access to fresh foods and have not had time to go shopping. Your office may have some snacks at the coffee station such as chips or candy. Often there is candy freely available. Or you need to go to a vending machine, which generally only sell candy, chips, and gum. They also sell sodas. Your lunch break may not be until 2 and you are feeling hungry, to stave that off you get a diet Coke and a candy bar. The combination of sugar and appetite inducing aspartame causes you to be hungry again in 2hours. You have a raging headache from dehydration, salt, and the caffeine and sugar lows. However, you are either unaware of what causes this or do not have the time to think about it. At 2 you are starving again and feeling sluggish and headachy, you get a large fast food meal with real soda and more caffeine. There is only one "healthy" restaurant around your workplace and they sell wilted salad and/or very fattening "gourmet" sandwiches. You go with the tried and true Whopper you've been eating since you were a child. You eat all the fries as it is the only vegetable you've had that day. Someone has some skittles later in the day and it clears your mouth of the dry fast food taste. You eat more, they taste like fruit. You don't like real fruit though because it's not sweet enough and usually mushy. After work you go home and crash in front of your TV. You worked a 12 hour shift and deserve to relax. You grab a bag of chips and salsa. MMM, the salsa tastes so fresh. You have nothing left in the fridge, you call a pizza delivery person and eat half of a large pie. The vegetables on the pizza taste terrible so you order only meat lovers and plain. To get rid of the taste of pizza you have some strawberry ice cream. See, you do like fruit...

              NOW, imagine if you also had childcare and other family responsibilities in this life...

              8 Replies
              1. re: fara

                Your scenario is scary and sad. I suspect it is true for many. It is not true for all. There are those of us who eat fresh, real, food and try to snack a little more constructively. Oh, and no one in my family gets away without breakfast!

                1. re: sandylc

                  yes, not everyone eats like that. but it requires a lot of effort to eat healthy here, in most cities anyway.

                  1. re: fara

                    That's true. Interestingly, my Italian teacher told our class that there are are "lot" of "really bad" restaurants in Italy. Sort of busts a few romantic European myths, doesn't it?

                    1. re: sandylc

                      I think "really bad" is relative to what your expectations are. My time in Italy has been very limited, but my very worst meals in the super touristy areas of Venice were leagues better than our bottom tier of The Olive Garden.

                      Mr Taster

                      1. re: sandylc

                        Yes, I've lived in Italy and eaten in one bad restaurant there. It was not only bad, it was probably a cover for a Mafia operation as the food was spoiled. We tried to send it back but they basically forced us to pay for it. There was another case where as students we were given two pasta courses for an exhorbitant price.
                        On the other hand, I never saw junk food there. I know it must exist, but there was a lot of fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, fish everywhere. The snacks at the boardwalk were delicious pizzas with mussels or other toppings. In Italy the food is amazing and fresh. Italians would have to look VERY hard to find bad food. Oh, and I looked the best I've ever looked after only two months of eating there (mostly in restaurants).

                      2. re: fara

                        Your comment reminds me of a visit to the UCLA campus where I saw two vending machines, in a picnic area on campus. One machine was filled with traditional junk food snacks and the other with nuts, fresh fruit, yogurt, etc. They were literally side-by-side. Both were comparably priced. And it occurred to me just how unrealistic an opportunity this was in non-UCLA society.

                        For those who love to scream about "choice", how often in life are we given this opportunity where good food and bad food are presented, in equal measure, on equal ground, for equal price and in equal quantity, for us to make a real choice about what we want to eat?

                        For most of America, we are limited to one or two "healthy" options (which may or may not remain healthy once the condiments, salad dressings, etc. are added) amid an ocean of terrible choices. That's the real reason for obesity in our country that we don't hear about-- it's the LACK of choice to access healthy foods *just as easily* and *just as affordably* as we can access the junk.

                        Mr Taster

                    2. re: fara

                      Good God! I do not know one person who eats like that. (This is in response to fara's Nov. 15 post.)

                      1. re: pikawicca

                        a lot of minimum wage workers I met after high school (who were in their 30's-50's) ate like this

                    3. I'm not sure there is a typical American way to snack, but snack food is readily available everywhere, so people often snack. You can buy all sorts of snacks at movie theaters, sports stadiums, art museums, grocers, filling stations, shopping malls and at least one library I've visited. Since food is everywhere, it is eaten by many. And then there are the snacks you buy premade and pull out of the freezer, or nuke in the micro at home. If you are chowish, you probably make many of your snacks from scratch. If you want to, you can drive through a fast food place and pick up a snack, and eat in on the road. Oh there are many and pernicious ways to snack in the USA.

                      I am on an eating schedule these days, and my schedule allows me 2 snacks per day. I almost always eat them. Being on a schedule keeps me from snacking so often at home or out and about.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: sueatmo

                        Very much this - you can get food EVERYWHERE. I recently started volunteering as an usher for the local professional theater company, and was shocked to learn that patrons are allowed to bring their candy bar and coffee into the theater. When I was a child in the 1980's, there were no refreshments at professional theater/music/dance performances (and I attend a lot of professional performances starting at age 8). We went for dinner before and dessert after. Food and drink absolutely weren't allowed in the theater due to noise and mess. As a child, it was one of the things that set it apart from the movies. Sometime in the 1990's, the theater added a refreshment stand in the lobby - you could get a glass of champagne or light snack at intermission, but had to finish before returning to your seats. Now, more and more theaters are allowing food and beverage in the seats, I spend half my time as a usher chasing people down to put lids on their coffee.

                        1. re: mpjmph

                          I was in London in the UK in the 80's (around '84) and went to the theater every night for about a week. They had very nice cocktails for offer at EVERY theater. Same with Lincoln Center in NY and the theaters on B'way, even some off broadway in the late 70's.

                          1. re: Linda VH

                            I went to London theater a lot in the 80s, too. I was a young teenager, so no cocktails for me -- but there was always ice cream!

                          2. re: mpjmph

                            As far back as the 70s in Philadelphia theaters snacks (for me) and cocktails (for the parents) were available. And they still are (though now I'm the one who gets the cocktail ;)

                          3. re: sueatmo


                            First you say:
                            >> I'm not sure there is a typical American way to snack

                            And then:
                            >> You can buy all sorts of snacks at movie theaters, sports stadiums, art museums, grocers, filling stations, shopping malls and at least one library I've visited.

                            The real point is that the lack of a particular style, time, etc. is what defines the American style of snacking (and our mindset about many things other than snacking). As with so many other aspects of our society, "I'll do it my way" is the law of the land.

                            Mr Taster

                            1. re: Mr Taster

                              I'll buy that. What I was thinking about there being no typical American way to snack is that we consume all sorts of stuff practically any time we want. Which is I guess is the common denominator--any time, any where, any amount.

                          4. In a country of over 300 million people covering countless ethnicities/backgrounds, I don't think you'll find much concensus on anything. Eating included.

                            It wouldn't occur to me that "Europeans" snack the same way, would it to you?

                            15 Replies
                            1. re: LeoLioness

                              Very true. In fact, the snacking thing could well be another way to bash Americans.

                              1. re: sandylc

                                I think the Europeans have less of a culture of eating on the street. Americans walk around eating, drinking all the time, it may be less of a public thing in Europe. Now Asia on the other hand...they might snack more than we do.

                                1. re: babette feasts

                                  "The Europeans" is quite a statement.

                                  Germans have no problem sucking down brats, döners, or BigMacs while perusing the subway (unfortunately). I've seen plenty of Spaniards munching on bocadillos as well. Not sure about the French, Italians, Greeks, Bulgarians, Rumanians, Polish, Belgians.....

                                  I guess I made my point.

                                  1. re: linguafood

                                    In Poland I stood in line with other Poles for Paczki (doughnuts) and fried cheese and these French Bread pizza-type sandwiches that were sold everywhere. All eaten on the street.

                                    In Prague people ate hot dogs and sausages from street vendors, washed down with hot mulled wine.

                                    Paris seemingly has a creperie on every corner. Surely it wasn't just other tourists eating at them?

                                    1. re: LeoLioness

                                      Your point being......agreement with my point, then.

                                      1. re: linguafood

                                        Yes, just filling in some blanks for you.

                                    2. re: linguafood

                                      Cafe culture in France is much more prevalent than snacking culture, but when I visited France years ago I had my share of baguette sandwiches (jambon et fromage avec beurre!) from street vendors all over Paris.

                                      Mr Taster

                                      1. re: linguafood

                                        Mmmm Hot powder-sugary waffles on a cold afternoon in Liege... And of course fites in Belgium as well.

                                    3. re: sandylc

                                      I'm not bashing anyone - it came up in a discussion about why are Parisians not fat. I think it was a US person who posted that they don't snack like Americans do. It struck me as odd, and I wondered what the perceived difference was.

                                      1. re: Peg

                                        It's a difference predicated on gross generalisations and a desire to distinguish oneself as special and not like all the others.

                                        1. re: Lizard

                                          I think the desire to be unique and special is a very American characteristic. I'm not saying it doesn't exist in other cultures, but here it is virtually a religion.

                                          And while its true that any discussion of this nature will include generalizations and oversimplification, if you step back and look at our society (or any society) from a distance, there are always trends that you can observe. It's like the flock of migrating birds that I've discussed on CH in the past-- observed as a group, the birds fly in an arrow shape towards the south. But as individuals, they may be flying east, or up, or down. Same with Americans-- we may choose to snack on berries or Kit Kats or nothing at all. But as a society, we're snackers. It has nothing to do with "uniqueness" and everything to do with learned habits and an abundance of food.

                                          Mr Taster

                                          1. re: Mr Taster


                                            When geese are flying south, do you know why leg of the V is always longer than the other?


                                            More geese.

                                      2. re: sandylc

                                        sandylc. I don't think the snacking thing is another way to bash Americans at all. Honest. I think mainland Europeans and UK'ers are almost fascinated by our eating habits. Truly. As a kid, I spent a good deal of time at my grandparents. They came here from Ireland. The only thing close to a snack was at 4PM ever day, my grandmother sat me, and my grandfather and herself down to the greatest cup of tea--I tell you that woman's tea was the best I've ever had. She would have one of two "eats" (as she called them), either an ever-so-thin slice of drake's pound cake or a slice of bread, with a thin pat of butter, folded over like a half-sandwich. Actually, that was more like her lunch because the only meal I've ever seen her eat was dinner. She didn't allow me to eat in-between meals. Same at home. I come from a family of five kids. My mother did not allow us to eat snacks/in between meals either. I suppose it was due to the fact both of my parents were first generation Americans and went by more European ways. Now--my ex-husband grew up in a home where snack foods were always at-the-ready...even soda. So when our kids were growing up, we had "those" snack and soda items in the house. When he left on business trips, I threw out the soda. As long as my children had their 3 squares, I suppose a little snack didn't hurt. However....their idea of an after-school snack was Campbells Chicken Noodle soup and a sandwich. (hearty appetities those kids of mine). My fiance is French and is appalled at the snacking that we, (Americans) do. I'm not a snacker myself, but now that my kids are grown, when they come over, I've always got a ton of food on hand. When the boys come over and watch football, they are constantly snacking.
                                        Right now, at my office, there are four vending machines in the breakroom. Two soda ones and two junk food ones. You would be surprised how busy those machines get. So honest to god, I really don't think this is an opportuned time to bash us. I think it is just a fascination with all the snacking we do.
                                        On one hand though--for a country of people who snack--our teeth and dental care is stellar. I've seen others across the pond with bad teeth!

                                        1. re: jarona

                                          The whole notion that "snacking" or eating between meals = bad is bizarre to me. Consuming a big meal a couple of hours before watching TV and going to be supposed to be good for you how, exactly?

                                    4. I generally don't eat between meals, which is how I define snacking. If I should happen to be hungry outside of mealtime, I guess I'd grab an apple or a banana.

                                      1. snack....usually means something after work until i eat dinner...can be all kinds of things...
                                        potato chips...popcorn....fruit..more fruits lately since we have a 3yo to feed as well..grapes..strawberries..bananas..blueberries..and she likes yogurt ..

                                        i still have a weakness for Little Debbie snack cakes tho...

                                        but its usually small amounts...its not "vast quantities that take the place of a meal"

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: srsone

                                          Oh, I remember wanting a snack before cooking dinner after work. Oh yes.

                                          1. re: srsone

                                            I remember feeling sleepy on my drive home at the same exact point every day. Then a friend explained it was low blood sugar. So, a few almonds or crackers eaten before getting into my car would have helped mightily.

                                          2. Just like how they masturbate.

                                            More often than they'll admit to.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: ipsedixit

                                              What if they only have time for one or the other? Or is this the famous "multi-tasking" I keep hearing about?

                                            2. Odd observation.

                                              When I lived in the UK people snacked no more or less than the Americans did.

                                              The Germans are known for eating snacks throughout the day. They may not call it "snacks" but there's an established tradition of coffee with cakes/pastries at certain hours between the meals.

                                              My husband's London office had a tea trolley lady who pushed a trolley around all the office suites, selling tea/coffee/snacks.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Roland Parker

                                                What I wouldn't give for a tea trolley lady at my work..

                                              2. Just now, a couple hours before bed - some cheese, toasted pecans and dried cherries - almost a late dessert.

                                                1. it would be so easy to make a proclamation, as we in the US are a big ball of mixed messages. but we are truly as sincere and genuine as can be.

                                                  yet here goes - many of the snacking crowd can't accept (outdoor) smokers while the folks flirting with diabetes demolish a bag of cookies inside. yes no secondhand effect, yet...it's really the same hand-mouth level of satisfaction. keep it coming.

                                                  immediate gratification, and in most areas the ability to easily indulge exists.

                                                  hunger is an energy.

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: hill food

                                                    This is not an 'American' thing, it is a 'human' thing.
                                                    I know some huge people who I have never seen eat anything at all, even healthy foods - I guess they are secret eaters - maybe in the UK it is just less acceptable to be seen to eat junk?
                                                    In my office, when there is a heap of cake/cookies on offer, many people have one portion, many have none - and a very very small minority just keep eating till there is none left. Yet there are an increasing number of very big people (I've seen some people 'inflate' over the years) - which leads me to think that much UK snacking takes place in private, and so is just less visible.
                                                    I cannot vouch for the rest of Europe, but I don't think there's any real difference between the snacking content of the UK and US - but for the British it is a secret vice .

                                                    1. re: Peg

                                                      Hmm...well actually even in the UK there is a wide range of preferences. Some people seem to snack constantly, on both healthy and unhealthy foods. Others only eat meals.

                                                      I know people who feel they HAVE to eat something every few hours. Mid morning and mid afternoon snacks are just part of their lives. They are not necessarily unhealthy and/or overwight by the way, in fact many of them are very in tune with food they need to eat to stay at a healthy weight.

                                                      On the flip side, I also know people who only snack if there is something pleasurable to eat. My Mum is like this. She will be able to just stick to 2 or 3 meals a day, but if there is something tasty around she will happily snack on it.

                                                      I also know people who seem to eat constantly. And people who seem to eat hardly anything. And any number of people who are somewhere in between. I don't think it's just a cultural thing, it's a personal thing. I live in India now and I can tell you that you can find the same sort of continuum here, though admitedly structured snacking is more common.

                                                      1. re: Peg

                                                        Peg - you reminded me of a British friend who once recalled in public school the headmaster rebuking the assembly as "certain boys have been seen eating from their hands in the High Street"

                                                    2. Americans snack with things that don't require plates.

                                                      1. I"m an American. (last I checked). Here is how I snack. Roasted pistachio nuts in the shell. Sunflower seeds. Beef jerky. String cheese if I'm out running with my dog (she likes some too). And my favorite is the Special K multi grain crackers with a wedge of laughing cow cheese. I try to stay high protein lower carbs. But that's just me. But... that's how I snack.

                                                        1. I've cut WAY down on snacking since the beginning of this year (with a resulting weight loss of 12-15 lbs.)

                                                          I've never snacked during the day -- my downfall are / were evenings, after dinner, watching TV. My man would bring out The Cheese Plate: some blue, some brie, some x-sharp cheddar....

                                                          I also cannot resist pistachios, b/c I'd eat the whole bag. The whole tactile joy of shelling them takes over and before I know it I've eaten them all (maybe wouldn't happen with shelled pistachios.... but then, what's the point, really? lame) This is why we rarely have pistachios in the house.

                                                          These days, IF I snack, it might be just a tiny bit of cheese with my wine after dinner, or a piece of chocolate. Emphasis on A piece :-D

                                                          Never really *got* that whole day-time snacking thing, frankly. If I'm really hungry between meals, which I don't tend to be, I'll have half an apple or something.

                                                          1. I just had some pistachios and a Lindt truffle!

                                                            My coworkers, however, are a different story. Each morning at work,someone does a McDonalds run. And the same four people eat Mcdonalds EVERY morning. These same folks always have candy at their desks and munch on that or chips from the vending machine constantly. Lunch is then fried chicken strips or a burger, again fast food. Mid afternoon they break out the store bought cookies or cake. On the way home, they swing through a drive through or pizza place and grab dinner for the family.

                                                            We tried putting fruit out. Nobody ate it. We tried swapping out candy in the vending machine for cereal bars and got complaints. We try having veggies or salad at company lunches and they go virtually untouched. But if you put out fried chicken, candy, cookies, etc it disappears!

                                                            2 Replies
                                                            1. re: mojoeater

                                                              One day like that and I would feel depressed and ill.

                                                              1. re: sandylc

                                                                I have been in a similar office and it is sort of depressing but hey I made my own decisions and they made theirs.

                                                            2. I think that you will receive almost as many answers, as you get replies.

                                                              I will depend on the individual, the region and then some other criteria.

                                                              I cannot imagine that there is any consensus on how "Americans snack."

                                                              I'd add my favorite snacks, but it would be out of the norm, and likely not of much use, as it's personal.


                                                              1. I snack a ton (30 year old female, healthy weight per BMI). I get low blood sugar and very, very cranky if I don't eat often BUT I get full easily so don't eat as much as others at meals. A typical mid-priced American restaurant entree could easily be 3-4 meals for me, but I'll snack in between.

                                                                Breakfast is some sort of hot cereal or toast or something as well as fruit, then a snack around 10, then lunch (sometimes I bring leftovers or make a sandwich, sometimes I go out to a decent restaurant), then another mid-day snack, then dinner (which is generally reasonably healthy and home cooked), then I'm almost always done eating for the day.

                                                                Snacks may include some combination of the following:
                                                                yogurt, store bought
                                                                fruit such as an apple or whatever else is in season
                                                                Raw vegetables and dip
                                                                cheese and crackers
                                                                tortilla chips and salsa
                                                                toast with jam or peanut butter or hummus
                                                                homemade muffin or quick bread
                                                                Small salad or small cup of soup
                                                                I'll confess to the occasional fast food stop

                                                                Or, today, a handful of chocolate chips left over from Christmas cookies. And then some pepperoni left over from a pizza I made a while back. NOT my best day :)