Vending Machine Snack Smarts

Sometimes, the only food available is from a vending machine, like when you’re at the office late, or on a road trip, or waiting at the airport. We've all been there and, at times, it seems impossible to find a good, healthy choice.

While there are some “healthy vending machine” companies attempting to offer a variety of nutritious offerings, most of us are stuck with the standard machines filled with candy, chips and cookies—what most of us would refer to as junk food. So, are there any good choices out there to provide any significant nutritional benefits or low-calorie options for our waistlines? In a word: Yes.

There are some fundamentals when it comes to vending machine eating:

  • Think before you choose to determine what you really want. Is it salt? Chocolate? Crunch? Picking to satisfy your taste buds first can save hundreds of calories.
  • Size matters. Choose the smallest size of whatever you want—whether its chips, candy or cookies. We all know we’re going to eat the whole bag, anyway—even if it says two or three servings.
  • Choose one item and tell yourself that that’s your limit. If you’re still looking for something afterward, you can go back and get a pack of mints, which has an intense taste for very few calories. So, what are some choices to consider?

    If you want something salty and crunchy:
    Look for the smallest bag of regular chips, baked chips or pretzels. Nutritionally, they’re all about the same. The smallest serving is the best choice.

    If you want chocolate:
    Choose a small chocolate bar, with almonds if you like them. Avoid the nougat fillers, which add additional calories and sugar.

    If you are looking for the best nutritional choice:
    Most machines have trail mix, a mixture of dried fruit pieces and nuts. Try to avoid the ones with candy mixed in. Or, try a bag of almonds, peanuts or cashews. Read the label for the serving size, as these can pack a major calorie punch. (A handful of nuts is roughly 150 calories.) Some machines have peanut butter crackers, which is another good choice.

    Bottom line: Choose carefully from a vending machine. There is always something you can find for about 200 calories. Think of it as an indulgence, and make it an occasional splurge.
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