Every day, all of us make choices about what to eat and when. Unfortunately for many of us in nursing, and even though we’re often called upon to advise others on creating healthier eating patterns, vending machines are often our only sources of meals during long shifts and heavy patient loads. Time constraints force us to make poor choices.

The good news is that all vending machine contents are not created equal, and more food suppliers are attempting to offer nutritious, healthier food options. While the majority of vending machines are full of candy bars, creamy cupcakes and sugar-loaded carb treats, healthier alternatives such as apples, oranges, and turkey sandwiches are becoming more commonplace.

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What you’ll find today may not be standard choices for meals, but at least they’re more nutritious options when you’re faced with those annoying hunger pangs and regretting the fact that you did not have it in you to pack a lunch tote.

When in doubt, five important tips should govern healthier food choices. These will help you to win the ongoing battle between your cravings and maintaining a healthy lifestyle:

  1. Decide what it is you really feel like. It is often when you are unsure of what craving needs to be satisfied that you choose the wrong thing. Do you want something salty, sweet or crunchy? Many calories can be saved by making that decision first. While baked potato chips aren’t usually considered nutritious, they’re healthier than the fried varieties for satisfying a salt craving. For a chocolate desire, anything chewy and gooey should be avoided in favor of a candy bar with almonds, since almonds have healthy fats and provide at least some protein for energy. Peanut butter crackers, while full of calories, also offer a great source of protein and are crunchy, too.  Avoid the granola bars. These are not healthy options; they’re no better than candy bars. Instead, a great choice is a bag full of almonds or cashews because they’ll make you feel full longer and have far less sugar.
  2. Size is important. Read the portion sizes carefully. One small bag of potato chips may really be portioned for two, three or even four people, but you’ll likely eat the entire bag anyway. Also, anything that says “king-size” in large letters and reads like a science experiment is just a waste of calories. If you’re going to splurge, look for the smallest packages of unhealthy items or opt for at least semi-healthy items.
  3. Buy one item at a time. You are not stockpiling for Winter. Select one package and go back later for a lower-calorie choice. Grab a small package of mints if you’re still hungry.
  4. Fruit is always a great choice. An apple, an orange or a pear can provide a boost of energy for a long day, and later you can add a package of nuts. However, stay away from trail mix that has candied fruit, as it is loaded with sugar and unneeded calories that are sure to wreak havoc on your waistline and will affect your energy levels shortly after consuming them.
  5. Try to plan ahead. Raid your own refrigerator and bring those carrot sticks and other nutritious items from home. This is healthy and cost-effective.

Finally, remember that there’s always another meal and another chance. An occasional treat from the vending machine isn’t the end of the world, but eating from it every day will make you a candidate for ‘My 600LB Life’. It’s all about what you choose that makes the difference.

Do you have any personal preferences when it comes to vending machines? 
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