Good-for-You Junk Food?

Take a stroll down the grocery aisle and it may surprise you. Where there were once boxes of familiar cookies and crackers, a new category of snacks now sits: the 100-calorie snack pack. But are these treats really healthier choices? Or are they just the same old junk food in a new package?

Yes and no. The addition of these “healthy” choices to American supermarket shelves has most nutritionists and physicians debating. The snack packs encourage portion control, but they’re still snack foods.

Good things come in small packages?

Little 100-calorie snack packs are a big business, generating millions of dollars in sales over the past few years. The varieties include slimmed-down versions of old favorites like cookies, fruit snacks, crackers and even cupcakes. The advantage to these packages include:

  • Portion control. A snack sized at 100 calories is a smart choice.
  • Convenience. The snacks are packaged as single servings, so there’s no need to count out the right portion.
  • Portability. It’s easy to toss a snack pack into your bag, a desk drawer or the kids’ lunches.

However, some experts see problems with the packs, such as:

  • Price. The small packages cost significantly more per pound than their larger counterparts.
  • Nutritional value. A small bag of chips is better than a big bag, but they’re still chips.
  • Size. Some worry the small portions will have people reaching for more than one snack pack. Although they’re lower in calories, they can add up quickly.

The better choice

If you’re craving chocolate cookies or chips, it’s probably OK to reach for the occasional 100-calorie pack. But a better idea may just be to create your own lower-calorie snack, taking advantage of more-nutritious food. Some ideas to try:

  • Half a peanut butter sandwich on whole-wheat bread
  • A handful of veggies with a dollop of hummus
  • A handful of unsalted or lightly salted dry-roasted nuts
  • Individual unsweetened applesauce with a few dry-roasted walnuts
  • Small apple with 2 teaspoons of peanut butter
  • Ants on a log — celery with peanut butter, topped with raisins
  • Handful of tortilla chips and salsa
  • Small bowl of whole-grain cereal with skim milk or low-fat yogurt

The bottom line? Snack smart and don’t always reach for a packaged low-calorie snack. Instead, try making your own. You’ll save a bit of money and sneak more vitamins and minerals into your diet while you’re at it.


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