Have you ever had the munchies and wished for a little something to snack on without blowing your day’s worth of calories? One of the hot new trends in food marketing is the 100-calorie snack pack. In today’s world of super-sized everything, it’s a nice option to have all the work and math done for you.
If you are portion-control challenged and short on time, you may opt for this convenience. Rather than bringing home the big bag of chips that offers no stopping point once it’s opened, you get a fixed number of snacks already pre-portioned for you into 100-calorie packages-assuming you can stop after eating only one package. But 100 calories times many snack attacks, and portion control is lost.
In addition to chips you’ll find cookies, crackers, popcorn, yogurt and even soft drinks available in these smaller sizes. The selection is extensive as more than 100 of these products now line your grocers’ shelves.
Food manufacturers may simply be putting 100-calorie’s worth of the original product into a smaller package much like you could choose to do at home using little plastic bags.
However, there are some exceptions. To make it appealing to the consumer, the food manufacturers want you to feel like you’ve gotten a lot in that little package which sometimes takes creative marketing. It may mean leaving out a high fat, high sugar and high calorie ingredient to meet the 100-calorie goal to keep the package from looking skimpy. For example, some cookies may have fewer chocolate chips or lack the filling you’re accustomed to enjoying.
Not only may you be getting less than you bargained for, but you also get to pay more-up to twice as much. If convenience is more important to you than your grocery dollars, you’ll welcome this new packaging concept. But if you like to get the most bang for your buck you may choose to take the time and do your own portioning in little plastic bags.
These 100-calorie packages are appealing to consumer’s who are watching their waistlines but don’t want to buy special diet foods. The 100-calorie snack pack is real food-not the diet version of favorite snacks. However, little packages filled mostly with empty calories are neither nutritious choices nor likely to be satisfying.
Better examples of real food 100-calorie snacks packed with good nutrition are a high fiber apple, orange or banana or a few tablespoons of nuts or sunflower seeds. For a high protein snack enjoy a small container of creamy non-fat yogurt or pudding but keep the added sugar in check. On these cold days a cup of sugar-free cocoa mix made with skim milk can be very satisfying-especially for those who like chocolate. For a chewy snack have a small handful of dried fruit in place of candy.
What’s my bottom line? Because we’re a grab-and-go and eat-on-the-run society, be realistic but be prepared. It’s not a bad idea to keep pre-packaged 100-calorie snacks on hand for emergency munching to help you get past a sudden craving if you don’t happen to have fresh fruit on hand when that snack attack hits. Why undo several weeks or months of building healthy habits with an uncontrollable urge to crunch?
Relying on pre-packaged goodies as part of your daily diet isn’t the best idea if they are nothing more than tasty little packages of refined sugar and saturated fat. On the other hand if you choose 100-calorie snacks that offer some protein and fiber and minimal sugar and fat, you may be doing your body a healthful favor.
Select the best and enjoy them now and then for a guilt-free winning combination.
By Shirley Perryman, M.S., R.D.
Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition
Colorado State University
Cooperative Extension Specialist