It used to be that vending machines were the place where healthy diets went to die. They offered limited choices and almost no options for the health-conscious eater; salt, fat, and sugar contents were off the charts. But in the past decade, a sea change has engulfed the vending industry. Most vending machines offer a wider variety of choices, with many more healthy options than were once available.
And there’s more good news; if you’re going to buy junk food, buying it from a vending machine may actually be a healthier choice! That’s because vending machine offerings have built-in portion control that you won’t find at a convenience store or supermarket.
Potato chips and other salty snacks, for instance, are some of the worst culprits for provoking overeating. If you buy a bag of chips at a convenience store, it’s likely to be 10 to 13 ounces; that’s 10 to 13 servings! And most people, despite their best intentions, have trouble limiting themselves to only one serving when they have the whole bag sitting in front of them.
Most vending machine bags of chips are only one ounce: the exact amount of a recommended serving! When you just must have that salty crunch of your favorite snack chip, isn’t it better to have your portion already measured out? The same principle works for other foods as well. At many convenience and grocery stores now, it can be hard to find the “regular” sized candy bars in the midst of all the king-sized ones, but most vending machine candy bars are standard size. And nuts, which are a very healthy snack in moderation (see Nuts to You!), can add up to extra fat quickly. But with a portion-controlled serving, it’s easier to eat the right amount of this heart-healthy snack.
Of course, US Connect’s Bistro To Go™ kiosks take healthy convenience to a whole new level. However, when you want to get a little junky at the vending machine, remember to use the built-in portion control. When in doubt, check out this handy wallet card from the National Institutes of Health; it will remind you of appropriate serving sizes.
The History of Vending Machines
How far back in history do you think the vending machine goes? The industrial revolution, maybe? You might be surprised to learn that the first vending machine goes all the way back to ancient Egypt, where the Alexandrian mathematician Hero invented a coin-operated machine to dispense holy water in the year 215 BC. The Chinese got into the act
in the 11th century with coin-operated pencil vendors.
However, the industrial revolution did indeed spur the growth of vending machines as we know them today. By the 19th century, vending machines started popping up all over England, selling tobacco, stamps, and even banned literature. The first vending machines in the United States were owned by the Thomas Adams Gum Company, which used them to sell Tutti-Frutti gumballs on subway platforms in New York. Gumball machines soon appeared in stores around the country.
In the early 20th century, the German automat model began to be used in the United States, thanks to Joseph Horn and German-born Frank Hardart. Horn & Hardart automats became an American institution, attracting customers from all walks of life. For a nickel per item, diners could build their own meal from a diverse array of fresh, tempting items. Horn and Hardart established uniformity for their recipes and worked from a centralized commissary system; in many ways, these popular eateries were the precursor of our own Bistro To Go™!
In 1946, the first coffee vendors changed the way working Americans consumed coffee; soon the coffee break became part of the American work day. In 1950, workers could buy sandwiches from vending machines—making lunch on-the-go much easier. In 1965, vending machines started accepting dollar bills, and people no longer needed a pocket full of change to get what they wanted.
Now, millennia after Hero’s first “vending machine,” the machine has evolved far, far beyond a simple coin-for-water system. Our vending machines and Bistro To Go™ kiosks are stocked with fresh, nutritious food that you can pay for with a credit card or even with cloud-based systems like Apple Pay. Thanks to USConnect, dining at work is more convenient than ever! What will the next technologies bring?
Vending machines and snack carts have their fair share of tempting snack foods, but you can make healthier choices even when you are in a hurry at work and must rely on these options for lunch or a snack to get you through that next meeting.
Here are some nutritional guidelines to follow when selecting an item from a vending machine or snack cart. Healthier choices will meet the following criteria for a single serving, so be sure to read all nutrition labels:
- Contains less than 35 fat calories for every 100 calories of the food.
- Contains 1 gram or less of saturated fat calories for every 100 calories of the food.
- Contains 0 g of trans-fat.
- Nuts are exempt from fat criteria as they are high in monounsaturated fat and are therefore a healthy choice.
- Contains less than 15g of sugar per serving, excluding sugar from fruit.
- Sugar-free choices are acceptable if they meet the fat criteria.
- Snack items: Contain less than 480 mg of sodium per serving.
- Entrée items: Contain less than 1000 mg of sodium per serving.
- Item is a lean protein choice (fish, chicken, turkey, tofu, legumes, beans).
- Must also meet the fat and sodium criteria.
- Plain or spiced.
- No candy-coated or yogurt-coated nuts/seeds.
- Nuts are exempt from fat criteria as they are high in monounsaturated fat, as stated above.
- Fresh, canned, or dried fruits without added sweeteners.
- Fresh vegetables and salads. Dressings must meet fat and sugar criteria.
- 100% fruit or vegetable juices without added sweeteners, and meet salt/sodium criteria.
- Whole grain breads and cereals must meet sugar criteria.
- Prepared legume products must meet fat, sugar, and sodium criteria.
- Items with at least 2 g of dietary fiber per serving are preferred.
- Non-fat or 1% dairy products (including cheese).
- Frozen dairy items must be made with non-fat or 1% milk or meet fat criteria.