Snacks From Hell

They are designed to be hubs of convenience but vending machines are loaded with snacks and drinks high in saturated fats, salt, sugar and an unconscionable number of "E" products. Which snacks, in particular, should be avoided and what are the healthy alternatives you can pop in your child's backpack instead?

Woman eating chocolate bar

Chocolate bars

OK, this might seem like we're stating the obvious but chocolate really isn't good for children. A little here and there won't do much harm, but the problem with children having access to bars of the good stuff in a school vending machine is that they won't stop at a little. The sugar highs they'll experience might boost them through a dull maths class but at what cost.

The healthy alternative: carrot batons. They are loaded with natural sugar so give a kick-start that is less artificial.

Cereal bars

These might seem a good alternative with all the references to nuts, oats and fibre, but The Food Commission has reported that even "healthy" cereal bars are often loaded with sugar, fat or both. They found the worst offenders to be Coco Pops bars and Rice Krispies bars, both often present in vending machines. The Coco Pops bar gets 41 per cent of its calories from sugar, which makes it worse than pure chocolate.

The healthy alternative: Nuts. Don't go wild and give your children lots as these are high in fat (though it's the good kind). Just a generous handful will do — they are tasty and an excellent source of energy. Pistachios, hazelnuts, walnuts and almonds are particularly good for you.

Fizzy drinks

Many soft drinks are high in sugar, even those that are a diet version. If they are high in sugar then they are usually high in calories, meaning your children can get dangerous sugar "highs" and run the risk of gaining weight. The high levels of sugar also mean carbonated drinks are very bad for children's teeth and, for teenagers, can have terrible consequences for their skin.

The healthy alternative: water. According to government advice, we should all drink 6-8 glasses of water a day to stay hydrated, though this amount should change on very hot days or when abroad in warmer climates. Another good option is a small carton of milk, which also helps to hydrate and has added calcium to strengthen children's teeth and bones.

Muffins

Again, these are high in sugar, high in fat and almost totally devoid of any nutritional benefits. They might fill your children up (and all kids hate being hungry) but they really aren't any good for them.

The healthy alternative: a banana. It's filling, gives energy through totally natural sugars and ticks one of their essential five-a-day.

Sandwiches

Anyone who has seen a vending machine sandwich can testify how scary these anaemic-looking offerings wrapped in plastic can be. The ham is the very worst type of processed meat and the cheese looks devoid of any calcium at all. They simply are not nutritious lunch options.

The healthy alternative: pack them a small pita bread loaded with hummus and vegetables. It'll slowly release energy into their system, keep them smiling and, again, contributes to their five-a-day.

More nutrition

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5 foods kids should not be eating and healthy alternatives
How to encourage kids to eat healthier

Tags: healthy beverages healthy snacks

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