Convenience foods and snacking go hand in hand. Unfortunately, many of these convenient snacks also go straight to our waistlines. When “snack packs” appeared on the market almost a decade ago, dieters rejoiced! Now, they could easily count calories and enjoy their favorite snacks at the same time. In fact, the 100-calorie snack packs proved to be so popular that sales in their first three years skyrocketed to almost $200 million. But how healthy are these snacks and should we even be eating them at all? Do good things really come in small packages? Let’s break down the snack pack facts.
Automatic Portion Control
Some dietitians and behavior experts believe these small 100-calorie packages are ideal for foods that we should only enjoy in limited amounts anyway, such as chips, cookies and chocolate bars. Numerous studies have shown that when a food container is larger, people will eat more. In fact, they’re more likely to eat until they reach the bottom of a box or bag, without even realizing how much they’ve eaten until all the food is gone.
Therefore, smaller portions sizes will help you eat less, right? Well, new research published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that smaller “snack” packages encouraged participants to eat nearly twice as much, often without hesitation, than people who ate from larger packages. The built-in portion control of snack packages may help some people curb mindless overeating, but this theory works only when you limit yourself to one package. If you consume more than that, the benefits are lost.
While the snack packs are winners for portion control and short-term satisfaction, they typically lack hunger-controlling nutrients (fiber, protein and healthy fats). This means that they won’t control your hunger for long and may lead to further snacking and higher calorie consumption over the course of the day. A handful of nuts or a piece of fruit could stave off the munchies for around the same number of calories while also providing key nutrients like fiber or healthy fats.
And despite the fact that the labels on these snack packs claim “0 grams of trans fats,” many still contain hydrogenated oil—the prime source of trans fats. Legally, manufacturers can label products as trans-fat-free if they contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving.
The Price of Convenience
While there are plenty of 100-calorie choices on the market, from chips to cookies and crackers to pudding, you’ll pay a higher price for these conveniently packaged snacks. Snack pack manufacturers charge as much as three or four times the price of conventional packaged foods. For example, a box of six 100-calorie packs of chips weighs only 95 total grams but costs around $3.00. That’s about the same price as a full-sized bag of chips, which contains three times as much food. More single-use packaging also means more waste from an environmental standpoint.
But judging by the explosive growth of the market, many dieters are choosing to pay more in order to avoid temptation. While you could simply divvy up a bag of chips or crackers into smaller portions yourself, many people don’t want to spend the time. If you can’t control your eating when faced with the full-sized version of your favorite snack, but you can eat just one smaller-portioned bag, a 100-calorie snack pack might be worth the extra money and help you reach your weight loss goals.
Smart Snack Alternatives
If you want a healthy, low-calorie snack but don’t want to pay the premium for convenience, here are some healthy snacks you can prepare yourself. You’ll save money, reduce waste, and stay fuller longer with these 100- to 200-calorie ideas that you can portion out yourself!
- Low-fat cottage cheese (4 oz): 80 calories
- Raisins (50 or about 1 oz): 85 calories
- Skim milk latte (8 oz): 85 calories
- Air-popped popcorn (3 cups or 1 oz): 95 calories
- Graham crackers (8 small rectangles): 100 calories
- Thin pretzel sticks (48 sticks or 1 oz): 100 calories
- Celery (5 pieces) with peanut butter (1 Tbsp): 100 calories
- Unsweetened applesauce (1 cup): 100 calories
- An apple (small) with low-fat cheese (2 oz): 150 calories
- Baby carrots (10) with hummus (1/4 cup): 150 calories
- Peanuts (a handful or 1 oz): 160 calories
- Raw almonds (a handful or 1 oz): 165 calories
- Low-fat yogurt (6 oz): 175 calories
- Tortilla chips (12 chips or 1 oz) with salsa (1/2 cup): 175 calories
- Whole wheat Ritz crackers (10 crackers or 1 oz) with peanut butter (1/2 Tbsp): 175 calories