Not Your Typical School Drama
“That isn’t lunch!” I couldn’t help but holler as the fourth girl came into my room with a slushy and a cookie. As a former middle school teacher and a health conscious individual, I trembled at the items I saw students eating every day at lunch. Many of my fifth grade girls would skip the school lunch program (which has enough nutritional trouble of its own) and go straight to the snack bar or vending machine. Ostensibly, this was so they would eat less and not gain weight. However, they obviously had no idea what kind of food would do their body good and thus usually made terrible decisions. Cinnamon twists. Push-ups. Root beer. Chocolate muffins. And they really had no idea. “This is healthy, isn’t it, Ms. Flaherty?” they would ask me innocently. They wanted to eat good lunches; they simply didn’t know how. They didn’t even know they didn’t know. Needless to say, we had a few nutrition lessons in English class that year, and I want to spread some of those lessons to the wider public. Ask your child what they eat at school, and help them make better decisions by educating them and yourself about what is beneficial. If your school has no healthy options, something has to change!
The terrors of school vending machines are not limited to these seven snacks, but hopefully this will teach you what to look for and get you thinking about new options. Healthy snacks aren’t just carrot sticks in a Ziploc anymore; they give the old junk a run for its money in taste and fun. I’ll compare the calories, fat grams, carbs, sugars, and protein for each treat.
Bad Cheetos, Good Pirates
Let’s start with my fourth graders’ favorite snack: Flamin’ Hot Crunchy Cheetos. Now, a serving size of Cheetos is 1 oz, but who eats less than the whole bag? Vending machine bag size is 2 oz, but I’ve seen students bring the 8 oz version and chow half to all of it, with a few handfuls given out to friends. Here are the stats for 2 oz; you can do the math for the rest.
From fat: 200
Total fat: 22 g
Protein: 2 g
The killer here is the fat: 58.8% of the calories in this food are from fat. Although the bag boasts “Og Trans Fat,” there is still plenty of the other kinds to do damage.
To still get that cheesy crunch, consider trying Pirate’s Booty ® natural snack products. For this comparison, we’ll use the Aged White Cheddar crisped corn puffs. Along with having all natural ingredients and being sold in a 1 oz package (to encourage moderation), these don’t pack nearly the junk punch that Cheetos do. I’ve put what 2 oz looks like in parenthesis to make comparing easier.
Calories: 130 (260)
From fat: 45 (90 – less than half!)
Total fat: 5g (10g – less than half!)
Carbs: 19g (38g)
Protein: 2g (4g)
Not only do the calories from fat decrease from 58.8% to 34.6%, but the protein also doubles. Eating protein with carbohydrates helps keep you fuller longer and less likely to experience a short-lived sugar spike, so it’s always a good idea.
Bad Suzy Q, Good Brownie Bar
If salty isn’t your craving, you might turn instead to one of the ubiquitous cake, cream, and frosting creations that populate the shelves of every place convenience snacks are found. Whether its rolled, round, striped, or spotted, beware! The high sugar, high-refined flour and total absence of substance will lead to a quick high and a hard crash. One Suzy Q Hostess Chocolate Cake with Cream Filling is a good example.
From fat: 81
Total fat: 9g
Instead try a Chocolate Brownie Clif bar or a Caramel Nut Brownie Luna Bar. They are both much higher in protein and have fewer calories from fat. Here is the full breakdown for one Luna bar.
From fat: 50
Total fat: 6g
Cutting the sugar and quadrupling the protein makes this a snack worth you won’t regret and still give you those health benefits of chocolate you crave.
Bad Pop Tarts, Good Kashi
Since Pop Tarts’ advent as a “breakfast food,” hundreds of thousands of people have sacrificed the most important meal of the day for garbage. Of course, lots of food that’s sold in the morning should hardly be classified as anything but a dessert — donuts, muffins, pancakes with syrup and whipped cream – but that’s a tangent. Although a serving size is technically one pastry, as with Cheetos, I assume most people eat the two that come in the bag. So let’s look at the nutritional info for 2 strawberry Pop Tarts.
From Fat: 90
Total fat: 10g
Whooee! A whopping 76 grams of carbohydrates are the source of most of the calories here, and the paltry amount of protein is hardly enough to off-set it. Although it may feel a little less sweet than, say, a chocolate Suzy Q cream cake, notice it actually has 16 more grams of sugar!
If you must eat breakfast on the go, grab a Kashi cereal bar. They are made with 7 whole grains (best source of carbs!), 3 grams of fiber, and real fruit (much better than that processed strawberry stuff in Pop Tarts). They also compare pretty well in the facts, even if you have two (data for 2 in parenthesis).
Calories: 110 (220)
From fat: 25 (50)
Total fat: 3g (6)
Carbs: 21g (42)
Sugar: 9g (18 – less than half!)
Protein: 2g (4)
Bad Cookies, Good Cookies
As you have been reading through this list, you may have been dreading I would finger your (or your child’s) favorite, irreplaceable snack, and although crushed, you knew there was no way to avoid still having it. What could ever be as good as a chocolate chip cookie, for instance? Well, how about a chocolate chip cookie? Sometimes it’s not the snack you choose, but the brand you buy that makes the difference.
Many vending machines carry the famous Famous Amos Chocolate Chip Cookies. A serving size is 4 cookies, but as with most junk foods, a bag always contains more than one serving. Multiply the following facts based on how many you usually eat.
From fat: 60
Total fat: 7g
On the other hand Barbara’s Bakery Chocolate Chip Snackimals, while perhaps not quite as gooey, are very tasty and much better for you. They’re even completely natural, as all Barbara’s Bakery products are.
From fat: 35
Total fat: 4g
Don’t grab a Snickers!
The number one, hottest selling vending machine snack is the Snickers bar. I myself have opted for it when everything in the machine is junk. My reasoning: at least there are peanuts so there must be some protein. Plus, it’s delicious! However, it’s still packed with stuff I really don’t want to eat.
A regular 2 oz bar (not a King Size) has the following nutritional value (or lack thereof).
From fat: 126
Total fat: 14g
Although it does have slightly more protein than your average treat, the off-the-charts fat and sugar probably neutralize any benefit I would have gotten from it.
The Clif brand makes a number of products that you may want to try for substitutions. The brownie bar (mentioned in the Suzy Q section) and this chocolate chip peanut crunch energy bar are good places to start. I think this one only comes in the Mini size.
From fat 25
Total fat: 2.5g
Less than half the badness in every category, and still beats Snickers on protein!
Bad Twix, Good Larabar
If you’re not the one that goes for the nutty Snickers, Twix may be your siren. Unfortunately, the facts are almost exactly the same, with a little less protein.
From fat: 126
Total fat: 14g
Larabars come in a variety of flavors, depending on your need: Cashew Cookie, Chocolate Coconut Chew, Cherry Pie, and so on. Organic and developed for your health, these are a good choice. I’ve picked the coconut chew for comparison purposes.
From fat: 110
Total fat: 12g
Keep in mind it’s not just the numbers that matter. For instance, you may think this is pretty high in fat, but it’s important to consider the source of the fat. In the case of Larabar, it’s mostly almonds and walnuts that spike the calories from fat. In the case of Twix, I’m guessing it’s partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, milk and cream, and other processed fatty things you don’t want to think about. And remember: LaraBar still beats Twix in every category by a long shot.
When You Want to Punch, Switch!
Finally, for the drinkers among our children, we turn to a thirst-quenching snack. As the staggering caloric load of a triple mocha has taught some of us, we can drink junk as easily as eat it. A student who is thirsty may innocently turn to a 20 oz Hawaiian Punch: it’s red, so maybe it’s juice, right? Wrong!
From fat: 0
Total fat: 0g
As you can see, Hawaiian Punch is straight sugar, in the form of high fructose corn syrup. In fact, the ingredients are, and I quote, “WATER, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP AND 2% OR LESS OF EACH OF THE FOLLOWING [juice concentrates].” Don’t be deceived by the claim that it’s made with “7 natural juices” – a dollop of nature can’t fix a boatload of chemicals.
Switch brand carbonated juices are the way to go when your kid wants a cool, refreshing beverage. For starters, there is NO high fructose corn syrup; in fact, all their products are 100% juice and carry a lot of Vitamin C. That’s a bit more natural. The cans are 8.3 oz and the bottles are 8, so there’s also less chance of overdosing on simple sugars. Here are the facts for a can (8.3 oz).
Total fat: 0g
Total Carb: 30g
Now You Know
After 7, I’m sure the idea is clear: look for fewer calories, more protein, more natural ingredients, and moderation. Teach your kids and students to be mindful of what they eat. A snack should be a snack – something small to tie one over for a real meal – not a substitute for a meal or another entire meal. Really, the children aren’t the ones to blame. If they had healthier options, perhaps, or more knowledge, they could make better choices. As responsible adults in their lives we should fight for them to have those choices and know what to do with them.