Best Vending Machine Choices for Afternoon Hunger

Choosing the salad at lunch felt like a healthy idea until your stomach started rumbling in your 2:00 meeting. Post-meeting, you make a beeline for the vending machine. Your stomach might be screaming “chips!” or “cookies!” depending on your savory-sweet preferences. Meanwhile, your head is reminding you that you should pick something healthy.

The optimum snack will include some satiating fiber and ideally fill in some nutrients in your diet. That means if you haven’t had protein, fruit, vegetables, or whole grains today, now’s your chance. Unfortunately, most vending machines don’t offer apples and whole-grain toast. So, what to get?

Let’s stare longingly into the vending machine together, shall we?

Packaged baked goods

There’s a good chance the cookies, muffins and pastries in the machine contain trans fats and a day’s worth of added sugar. There’s a reason those muffins last indefinitely. There’s not much good to come from this category.

Chips and pretzels

With little fiber and protein, these aren’t going to do much to curb your hunger, but if it’s a salty snack you’re craving, go for it occasionally. Just don’t overdo it. Chips typically deliver salt, saturated fat, and unpronounceable ingredients. To make it a little healthier, choose baked or whole-grain varieties. A better choice is popcorn like SkinnyPop that will fill you up. It gives you whole grains and fiber. Just watch butter (saturated fat) and salt.

Candy

There’s really nothing redeeming about Skittles and Starburst. It’s all sugar, corn syrup and artificial ingredients. Can we recommend a candy bar with nuts instead? Peanut M&Ms and Snickers will give you some fiber and protein with your chocolate. Go for dark chocolate if you can for some antioxidants, manganese, and iron. But don’t be misled. Dark chocolate often gets an undeserved health halo. It’s still candy.

Granola bar

Choose one with whole grains and nuts and you’ll get some fiber and protein. Just read the label if you can. Some varieties pack about half your added sugar allotment for the day (it might be called syrup, honey, or another word ending in -ose), and a helping of saturated fats.

Jerky

Processed meat isn’t particularly healthy. Jerky tends to be marinated or flavored in sugar or salt mixtures to add flavor and sodium. If you’re after some quick protein (and don’t have high blood pressure or other health conditions), go ahead and eat this sometimes food.

Nuts

This is the clear winner. Nuts are packed with protein and micronutrients like potassium, magnesium and vitamins E and B6. For the healthiest snack, look for unsalted or lightly salted varieties. Go easy on honey roasted and flavored nuts that add sugar and sodium. A trail mix with dried fruit will add some vitamins to your snack. Dried fruit also has added sugar, but the bonus of vending machine snacks is they have built-in portion control!

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Candace Nelson

In the mountains or water debate, Candace Nelson chooses water every time. She is a Master of Science in Nutrition student and loves taking any fitness class that makes her forget she's working out. Read more at candacenelson.net