What to Eat at the Vending Machine



It’s late at night or you’re stuck someplace… in a waiting room, at the office, in between classes. You’re hungry, a bit peckish, or maybe just bored. There’s a vending machine down the hall. It’s filled with chips, candy, cookies, and other snacks. You’d like to at least try to be healthy and are wondering what to have. Popcorn? Trail Mix? Pretzels?

The good news is most vending machines have much healthier snacks than they used to. You can generally find Skinny Pop, Sun Chips, Kindbars, and other more nutritional offerings. We asked our go-to nutrition expert Sarah Wragge what are the smart food choices when the vending machine is the only option. Here’s our guide to what to eat and what not to eat before you make your selection.


Sarah’s overall rule of thumb is: “If you are peckish or bored, push through. There is a time to feast, and a time to famine! Keep those insulin levels low and power through until your next meal to tap into your body’s fat stores.” BUT… if you are really hungry, and the vending machine is all there is:

1) Choose savory over sweet and avoid the blood sugar rollercoaster that happens after you indulge in processed sweet treats.

2) Go for a more high fiber snack over a high carb snack

3) Drink a bottle of water before you indulge and see if you are actually hungry.

In general, the fewer ingredients the better. Nuts and potato chips are basically just nuts and potatoes. Popcorn is just popped corn, and its high fiber and low calorie too. Skinny Pop has just 100 calories in a vending machine bag. Yes, potato chips and popcorn are cooked in oil and nuts have fat, but they are savory and filling, have no sugar, and nip hunger in the bud. Just be aware, Sarah advises, that potato chips like Lays and Kettle Brand are cooked in inflammatory oils like canola, sunflower, and safflower oil. Don’t stress if that’s your only choice, but look for potato chips cooked in avocado or olive oil, a great source of healthy omega 9 fatty acids.

If the vending machine has Terra chips like the one above, that’s even better says Sarah, as those are a blend of healthy root vegetable chips like beets, parsnips, and sweet potatoes. One serving has 9 grams of fiber, so they are more filling, and because root vegetables are complex carbs (as opposed to white potatoes), they won’t spike your blood sugar.

Trail mix is not a bad choice, especially when it’s mostly nuts and seeds. You have the protein from the nuts so it’s a filling snack. A few raisins thrown in are fine. Even though they are high in sugar, the fat from the nuts will keep your blood sugar from spiking so you stay satifsied longer. Try to avoid the trail mix blends with things like m&ms and chocolate chips, although it’s not a big deal every now and then.

While we’re on the subject of m&m’s… candy is not an ideal snack, but those that offer a combination of protein and fats, like Peanut m&m’s or a Snickers bar, will tide you over between meals. Each come in under 250 calories and provide a small protein boost too. A better choice, however, is a Lunabar, Kindbar, or Larabar which you find in many vending machines now. They have less sugar and more whole foods, grains, and natural ingredients. Skip the granola bars as those have just as much sugar as a candy bar and are high in fat too.


You want to avoid snacks filled with a bunch of preservatives, additives, and artificial ingredients like Cheetos or Cheeze-Its. The day glo orange color should be the warning sign to proceed with caution. And forget pretzels says Sarah. They are basically just white bleached flour, stripped of any nutrients, with no fiber or fat to slow down the carbohydrate absorption. With the blood sugar spike that ensues as a result, you’ll be hungry again in an hour.

And don’t be fooled “baked” chips! As we wrote about in Trick or Treat, they may have fewer calories and less fat, but they make up for it with a long list of fillers, sugar, and other inflammatory artificial ingredients. You can skip the cookies too.

Ok… you may insert your dollar bills face up into the vending machine now.