Best and Worst Picks from a Vending Machine

You're hungry and glued to your desk. What are your best options for a snack?
Vending Machine

If you find yourself stuck at work with a deadline, an energy slump and no food source other than the vending machine, take heart: Your office vending machine just might contain a couple of items that will slay your hunger and pick up your energy level — without undermining your daily PointsPlus® Target.

Buyer beware
Keep in mind that snacks high in protein and fiber will deliver the longest-lasting energy return. But be careful with products labeled "whole grain," says Alan Lee, a registered dietician at Greyston Health Services in Yonkers, NY. They are often a source of fiber — but not always.

And even though the word "healthy" may appear on a package, there is no regulated measure of genuinely healthy ingredients — it's often a marketing gimmick.

If you can read the label to be sure that the product truly has a good amount of protein or fiber or less fat than typical packaged snacks. (Some new high-tech vending machines let you read the nutritional labels on a screen before you buy.) And use the PointsPlus calculator to find out exactly what you're eating.

Smart picks
These common machine snacks should satisfy your hunger, says Lee.

Cereal bars. They were intended for breakfast, but whole-grain cereal or granola bars will fuel you anytime. One typical cereal bar has a PointsPlus value of 5.

Trail mix. A combination of nuts and dried fruits, such as raisins, delivers protein and fiber. But be sure to avoid versions mixed with candies such as chocolate or banana chips. A 1/4 cup of trail mix has a PointsPlus value of 5.

Energy bar. If you have hours to go before you can enjoy a real meal, choose one of the big guns: an energy bar. An average energy bar has a PointsPlus value of 4 to 6.

Oatmeal. It's is a fiber-rich breakfast or snack choice. A single serving of apples and cinnamon instant oatmeal contains 130 calories for a PointsPlus value of 4.

Poor picks
These snacks will make your energy plummet and your PointsPlus values soar.

Frosted pastries: Not even kids should pop these in the toaster. One frosted toaster pastry packs a PointsPlus value of 6.

Reese's peanut butter cups: It's obvious that a chocolate bar won't provide lasting energy, but some might think that adding the nutrients and protein in peanut butter might help the mix. For a PointsPlus value of 6 for just two, though, it's pure candy.

Potato chips: Most chips are fried, which boosts their PointsPlus values skyward (one serving has a PointsPlus value of about 4). Of course, you could be lucky enough to run across a vending machine stocking baked chips, which have a PointsPlus value of 2, with far less fat.

Snackwells Cookie Sandwiches: With 1 or 2 PointsPlus values per cookie, these won't ruin your daily standing, but they are heavily sweetened and won't do much for real hunger. Bottom line: "They're not very filling," says Lee.

Pretzels: So maybe this isn't a worst choice. What should be noted, however, is that this snack is often thought to be a safe vending machine mainstay at a PointsPlus value of 3 (for 1 oz of pretzels). But they've got little fiber, so soon you'll be taking a trip back for another snack. "They're super salty tasting," says Lee, "but offer little satisfaction."

The best course of action is to plan for those energy dips and long hours by bringing in fresh fruit, low-fat cheese and yogurt.

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