When choosing a snack from a vending machine, you’re faced with a few options….chips, popcorn, chocolate bars, candy, cookies, trail mix, and more. The average person may not think twice about the nutritional content of these items. However for the person who is trying to keep an eye on their health or waistline, deciding what to purchase can be a tougher decision. Now, if vending machines dispensed fruits and vegetables, every option would be a healthy choice.
Fresh fruits & veggies from Fresh Healthy Vending
However, most vending machines today still look like the one found in the Agricultural Sciences Building at West Virginia University.
Chips, and Snacks, and Candy, Oh My!
It’s really too bad, considering that West Virginia has one of the highest rates of obesity and diabetes in the country. But in order for behavior change to occur, people have to have the right tools and skill set in order to make healthier and educated choices. I wanted to create some kind of sign or educational material that grouped these vending machine choices into “green, yellow, red” for a “yes, sometimes, rarely” type of rating system that will let consumers know how each snack ranks nutrition-wise, when compared with the rest of the available options. After analyzing the calorie and fat content of each package, I decided the most reasonable criteria to use was 240 calories or less and 20% DV of total fat or less for the “green” rating. A yellow rating meant it only met one of the two previous criteria, and a red rating meant the snack didn’t meet either of the criteria, as it was above 240 calories and above 20% DV of total fat.
Here is a PDF file showing the snacks grouped into each stoplight color, which I hope to have as a poster next to the vending machine:
Guide to Vending Machine Snacks
And here is another flyer highlighting the 3-4 best vending machine choices:
Best Vending Machine Choices
While doing this project, there’s one main lesson I learned and that others should take notice of as well. Portion size is everything! Many of these snacks are not single serving sizes. For example, the bags of chips were 1.125-2 ounces, while a serving of chips is 1 ounce. So naturally, if you eat the whole bag, you have to nearly double the calories, fat grams, carbohydrates, etc. in order to accurately depict what is in the entire bag. This is especially key to take note of if you choose the Kar’s Roasted Salted Peanuts. Peanuts are a great snack to have– they contain 8 grams of protein and nearly 3 grams of fiber per serving, not to mention they contain the heart-healthy unsaturated fats. But this bag is two ounces, and an ounce of peanuts is one serving. If you eat the full two ounces in one afternoon, you’ve just ate 29 grams of fat, or 45% of your DV for the day. So it’s definitely best to eat half of the package, and save the other half in your desk drawer for later in the week.
Ok, so “what can I eat?” The answer, is anything! Just eat half of the bag of chips or half of the candy bar, and you’ll be just fine. Everything will be less than 170 calories that way, and less than 17% DV of total fat, or 11 grams. But if you want to eat an entire package, here’s the best option from each category:
BEST CHIP: Baked Ruffles, Cheddar & Sour Cream
Due to its smaller portion size (1.125oz), this bag contains just 135 calories and 4 grams of fat (only 0.5g of that is saturated). Go for it!
BEST SNACK ITEM: Chex Mix, Cheddar
This 1.75-oz bag contains 210 calories and 6.5g of fat (10% DV). A better choice than Cheez-Its which have more than double the fat.
BEST CANDY: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
Due to its smaller portion size, these 2 peanut butter cups are the lowest calorie candy bar you’re going to find in this vending machine. While Reese’s does have 13g of fat (20% DV), 8.5g of these are unsaturated fats, and there’s also 5g of protein, which isn’t too bad!
HONORABLE MENTION: Kar’s Original Trail Mix
While it did receive a “yellow” rating due to its higher fat content (22% DV), trail mix is still a good choice. This 1.5-oz bag is 200 calories, has 3g of fiber, 7.5g of protein, and 12.5g of the 14g of fat are unsaturated (“healthy”) fats.
Remember, the healthiest choice to make would be to bring a snack from home, such as fruit, whole wheat crackers, yogurt, a cheese stick, or fresh veggies. But if you find yourself in front of a vending machine with a dollar in your pocket, it’s also important to know what vending machine options are the healthiest for you.