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A snack is a portion of food often smaller than a regular meal, generally eaten between meals. Snacks come in a variety of forms including packaged and processed foods and items made from fresh ingredients at home.
Traditionally, snacks were prepared from ingredients commonly available in the home. Often leftovers, cold cuts sandwiches, nuts, fruit, and the like were used as snacks. The Dagwood sandwich was originally the humorous result of a cartoon character's desire for large snacks. Beverages, such as coffee, are not generally considered snacks though they may be consumed along with snack foods. A beverage may be considered a snack if it possesses a substantive food item (e.g., strawberries, bananas, kiwis) that has been blended to create a smoothie.
Plain snacks like plain cereals, pasta and vegetables are also mildly popular, and the word snack has often been used to refer to a larger meal involving cooked or leftover items. Six-meal eating is a form of eating that interjects healthy snacks in between small meals, to stave off hunger and promote weight loss.
With the spread of convenience stores, packaged snack foods are now a significant business. Snack foods are typically designed to be portable, quick and satisfying. Processed snack foods are designed to be less perishable, more durable, and more portable than prepared foods. They often contain substantial amounts of sweeteners, preservatives, and appealing ingredients such as chocolate, peanuts, and specially-designed flavors (such as flavored potato chips). A snack eaten shortly before going to bed or during the night may be called a midnight snack.
Snack foods are often subjectively classified as junk food because they typically have little or no nutritional value, and are not seen as contributing towards general health and nutrition. With growing concerns for diet, weight control and general health, government bodies like Health Canada are recommending that people make a conscious effort to eat more healthy, natural snacks – such as fruit, vegetables, nuts and cereal grains – while avoiding high-calorie, low-nutrient junk food.
A 2010 study showed that children in the United States snacked on average six times per day, approximately twice as often as American children in the 1970s.
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