New Vending Machine Trends

We have access to food 24/7 which is good for those who need convenient meals or snacks, but not good for those who are easily tempted. The ever beloved vending machine has been there in times of need, yet it has also eaten our money and supplied us with choices laden in fat, calories, cholesterol, and sugar. Check out a previous blog for guidelines and suggestions for healthy choices (click on the link) when confronted with the vending machine dilemma.

The vending machine has been around for quite some time, but not until recently have we seen a big surge in making the contents more healthful. Several schools have banned vending sales of soda and junk food, two large contributors to the growing waistlines of our children. Eliminating the machines in schools is a wise solution according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. They found that the most commonly purchased vending machine items were chips, pretzels/crackers, candy bars, soda, and sport drinks. It also found that the strongest risk factor for buying snacks or beverages from vending machines instead of buying school lunch was availability of beverage vending machines in schools. See the abstract here. Now, I’m not saying school lunches are the healthiest choices either; that brings up a much larger issue, but they are usually more nutritious than vending machine options. Your best bet is to send your child to school with a sack lunch prepared with healthy whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and love!

I subscribe to an e-newsletter called trendcentral, which gives updates on the latest and greatest products soon to hit mainstream. When I saw the most recent, I was thrilled to see a couple makeovers to our traditional junk food dispensers. Click here for the article. I especially took note of the fresh produce offering by Del Monte. I was delighted to see advanced technology for chilling foods in a vending machine expand beyond ice cream and soda.

“Del Monte partnered with national vending company Vistar to create a specialty vending machine that contains two sections: one refrigerated for fresh cut produce and the other at room temperature for bananas. The machines will distribute individual portions of grapes, pineapple chunks, apple slices, baby carrots, celery sticks and grape tomatoes. Each serving will be 4 to 6 ounces, contain 120 calories or less, and cost between $1 and $2.25.”

Another downfall of current vending machines is the inability to read the Nutrition Facts label or ingredient list. How will we know which option has the least amount of calories and the most nutrition? Well, thanks to President Obama’s health care reform bill, calorie-posting laws will soon expand nationally. Chain restaurants and vending machines will be required to post calories. This will apply to any chain restaurant with 20 or more locations and vending machine operators that own 20 or more machines. You will now have the information you need to make an educated decision about which snack fits into your daily budget. Check out the Interactive machines with the LCD screens similar to iPhones. Unfortunately, I suspect that the screen will do more harm by advertising the unhealthy options instead of enticing passing consumers with nutritious snacks.

“Inquisitive users can tap on the images to enlarge them and brush the screen with their fingers for a 360 degree view that reveals ingredients and nutritional information.”

Even though this looks like progress, I still think your best bet is to have a plan and be prepared with low calorie, nutrient dense snacks you pack from home. Keep your favorites handy in your car, desk or purse. That way, when hunger strikes, you know that what you reach for won’t derail you from your ultimate goal!

Krista L. Haynes, R.D.