Berry-SmoothieThree square meals is a thing of the past. Today, the recommendation is to eat three balanced meals based on MyPlate and one to three snacks daily. To get the most nutritional value, proper planning of quick and easy snacks is key.

Snacks are mini meals that help prevent hunger,especially if there’s a gap of four to five hours between meals. They should contain roughly 150 to 200 calories for the average adult and provide essential nutrients.

The MyPlate guidelines recommend that fruits and vegetables make up one-half of your plate. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2009 an estimated 32.5% of adults consumed fruit two or more times per day and 26.3% consumed vegetables three or more times per day. With many Americans falling short on their fruit and vegetable requirements, snacks are the perfect way to fit them in.

Satisfying snacks balance fiber, lean protein, and some healthy fat. Fiber helps slow absorption, and protein and fiber take longer than other nutrients toSnack digest, making you feel full longer and curbing your hunger. Get fiber from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; protein from eggs, peanut butter,and nonfat and low-fat dairy; and healthy fats from nuts, seeds, and unsaturated oils.

Many people believe that eating after a certain hour will cause them to gain weight, but there’s no significant evidence to suggest that’s true. It comes down to calories ingested throughout the day. Keeping each meal to about 500 to 600 calories allows for one or two snacks. If you eat an early dinner, you may need an evening snack to help fuel your body until bedtime.

Planning what you will eat can help prevent a last-minute run to the vending machines. Here are 12 wholesome snack ideas if you need a pick-me up:

1) Whole grain cereal and milk: Top 3/4 cup of cereal (about 150 calories) with 3/4 cup of low-fat or nonfat milk. Look for cereal with at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. (210 calories)

2) Sliced veggies with hummus: Dip 11/2 cups of vegetables such as sliced carrots, celery,bell peppers, broccoli, or cucumbers in 1/4 cup of hummus. TheSnack1 combination of healthy fat and protein from the hummus along with fiber from both the hummus and the veggies will help keep you satiated. (175 calories)

3) Whole grain bread and peanut butter: Top fiber-filled whole wheat or rye bread with 1 tablespoon of natural peanut butter. Avoid reduced fat peanut butter because it has more sugar than the full-fat version. (204 calories)

4) Homemade trail mix: Combine 2 tablespoons of nuts such as almonds or cashews, 2 tablespoons of dried fruit like raisins or apricots, and 10 mini pretzels for an added crunch. Package bags of trail mix for an easy grab-and-go snack. (204 calories)

5) Whole grain crackers and cheddar cheese: Top whole grain crackers with 1 ounce of light cheddar cheese. Check the Nutrition Facts panel for the appropriate serving size of crackers. (200 calories)

6) Chocolate milk: Satisfy your sweet tooth with a glass of homemade chocolate milk. Combine 1 cup of low-fat or nonfat milk with 1 tablespoon of chocolate syrup. (150 calories)

7) Chips and salsa: Satisfy a craving for salt with 1 ounce of baked tortilla chips (about 14) dipped in 1/2 cup of salsa. (155 calories)Snack2

8) Vegetable soup: Cozy up to a bowl of vegetable soup—a simple and delicious way to get in more vegetables. (100 to 200 calories)

9) Greek yogurt topped with blueberries: Greek yogurt contains more protein per ounce than traditional yogurt. Top 6 ounces of nonfat Greek yogurt with 1 cup of fresh or thawed frozen,unsweetened blueberries. (159 calories)

10) Hard-boiled egg on a whole wheat pita:Stuff a small 4-inch whole wheat pita with 1 teaspoon of butter or whipped cream cheese and a sliced hard-boiled egg. To save time, boil several eggs for the week. (182 calories)

11) Almond-stuffed dates: Stuff one unsalted,raw, or dry-roasted almond in a pitted date.Seven stuffed dates make the perfect snack. (189 calories)

12) Fruit smoothie: Smoothies are an easy way to get in your fruits and perfect for both adults and kids. To keep calories in check, be sure servings are about 6 to 8 fluid ounces.