by Marion Nestle
Aug 9 2007

Healthy Foods in Vending Machines?

An NYU colleague, Shari Lichtman, posted this comment today (#8 under Welcome): “I write to tell you how much I enjoyed and learned from your book, What to Eat, which I read very recently….perhaps we can get better choices in the NYU vending. Downtown, in the SCPS Woolworth Building, the selections are scary!”

Vending machines everywhere are scary. I am involved in a project at Cornell (where I am a visiting professor) to improve the quality of foods in the machine in the nutrition department. I am pretty much at the point where I think doing so is hopeless–are “healthy” junk foods better than any other kind? Has anyone out there ever tried to do this and succeeded? I’d really like to hear your experiences.

  • Lindsay

    Have you heard of the Stonyfield healthy vending machine project? Some of the ideas might be helpful:

    I agree, however, that many “healthy” snack foods are lesser-evil versions of the originals, at best. It’s tough to find a packaged snack that can compare nutritionally to just an apple and a few almonds.

  • elfling

    I have kind of a side question about nutrition labelling.

    I was looking at the Nutrition Facts Label on a bag of carrots today. 38 calories per serving, 6g of sugar, 270% of the RDA for Vitamin A and 10% for vitamin C. If I read this label and compare it to packaged foods, the carrots really don’t look all that healthy. And yet I know they are. I have the same experience with apples and with other fruits and vegetables. What needs to be added and changed on the Nutrition Facts panel so that this makes more sense? Has anyone done a blind study of nutrition labels, having people compare them side-by-side and see which food they believe is more healthy without knowing what the food is, but from the label alone?

  • Steve Gilman

    Shari should walk over to the Plant Science Building at Cornell — there’s a vending machine put together by the pomology department that is converted to selling several varieties of APPLES. They are cool and crisp and Yummy and I’m sure the Nutrition Dept would find them nutritious as well…


  • That link from Stonyfield is appalling. Did you look at their sample vending machine? Pita chips, popcorn, potato chips, white flour pretzels, crackers, “energy” bars, cookies, fruit juice sweetened spritzers, sweetened soy products, sweetened yogurt, chocolate milk, and ultrapasteurized skim milk. There is not a single product in that sample vending machine that is not harmful to human health. (There is one package that is too small to identify – I hope and pray that it is nuts.)

    But, of course, all products have recognizable brand names. This is just a cynical attempt on the part of Stonyfield Farm to capitalize on concerns about children’s health.

  • Marjanna Hulet

    When I was an undergraduate at BYU, the vending machines in the various departments were the old fashioned cafeteria type–refrigerated with little doors that you pushed open once the food you wanted rotated into place.

    The really cool thing about this was that the Student Union food services stocked this with wrapped sandwiches, bags of carrots, apples, milk, bagged boiled eggs, bagels with cream cheese, etc everyday. You could, in a hurry, pick up an egg salad sandwich, an apple, and a carton of milk in between classes. Don’t know if they still do this, but I loved it then and miss it now here at Idaho State University.

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