How to make healthy food choices at the convenience store

By: Dee Van Dyk

Author: Canadian Living


How to make healthy food choices at the convenience store

By: Dee Van Dyk

In an increasingly grab-and-go world, it's still possible to make smart snacking choices, despite the temptations lining the shelves of most convenience stores.

Convenience store snackers are often looking for four things: convenience, affordability, portability and taste. Is it possible to add "healthy" to that mix?

When you're looking for healthy snacking options, all convenience stores are not created equal, says registered dietitian Melanie Faust. "Some of them are fantastic and offer things like sushi, fresh cut-up fruit ready to go in a container, salads, exciting sandwiches with things like grilled vegetables on whole wheat bread, cheese strings, apples with caramel dip, granola bars, and protein bars with added fibre."

Does your nearby convenience store of choice have healthy alternatives that fit into your lifestyle? If not, keep your eyes open for a nearby store that does or approach the store manager to ask about the possibility of including fresh, healthy options.

Convenience store trends
Convenience stores are exploring their food service options and customer acceptance and demand for new and healthier products. "I certainly wouldn't have thought of sushi as a convenience store item five years ago," says Ron Thompson, marketing manager for Western Canada Mac's convenience stores. "Sales of sushi have been on fire for us. I can't tell you how many times I've been in line and there's someone who's gone to the sandwich case and picked up sushi instead of chips."

"We've had a lot of success with fresh fruit like apples, oranges and bananas," says Thompson. "And we've also started bringing in seasonal things like mangoes, avocados, and star fruit."

Thompson cites the reduction or elimination of trans fats in packaged snacks as another positive move towards healthier choices. Baked product (such as corn chips and potato chips) versus deep-fat-fried product is another area of the convenience store that's showing growth among consumers.

Convenience store shoppers are seeing more choices in energy bars, too. "The organic fruit and nut bar offering has grown considerably in our stores," says Thompson. You'll also find many convenience stores stocking more diet soft drinks, juice, and water, reflecting a demand from consumers.

Page 1 of 2 - Read page two for some snack suggestions!

Think about what you're looking for
Is it a snack or a meal choice you want?

"If you're looking for something to keep you going for the rest of the day, a bag of baked chips isn't going to cut it," says Faust. "It's definitely a better option than regular potato chips if you're in the convenience store and you're not that hungry, but craving something salty and crunchy."

If you're looking for something to keep you going for the rest of the afternoon or workday, try choosing from a variety of food groups, recommends Faust. If you're eating on the run, consider a small meal of cheese strings and vegetables, or yogurt and a granola bar. "Maybe even add a bag of unsalted nuts, but watch the portion sizes. Keep it to a handful; eating a whole bag of nuts can easily add 700 calories to your intake without you being conscious of it."

An individual size of cereal couples nicely with fresh cut-up fruits and/or vegetables, which are often packed in containers designed to fit nicely into your vehicle's cup holder.

Still want the chocolate bar and chips?
If nothing will satisfy you except for a bite of your favourite chocolate bar, there's still hope for eating reasonably well, says Thompson. "Most confectionary manufacturers are now doing smaller 100-calorie bars. They're not made with any kind of different ingredients; the portion size is just a little smaller."

Sample smart snacks
• Kellogg's Nutri-Grain Cereal Bar (Blueberry)
Per 37 gram bar:
Calories: 140
Fat: 3 grams
Protein: 2 grams
Carbohydrate: 26 grams
Fibre : 1 gram

Taste of Nature Organic California Almond & Raisin Bar
Per 40 gram bar:
Calories: 170
Fat: 11 grams
Protein: 5 grams
Carbohydrate: 17 grams
Fibre: 3 grams

Quaker Chewy Yogurt Granola Bar (Strawberry)
Per 35 gram bar:
Calories: 150
Fat: 4 grams
Protein: 2 grams
Carbohydrate: 26 grams
Fibre: 1 gram

Baked Lays Original Potato Crisps
Per 28 grams
Calories: 110
Fat: 1.5 grams
Protein: 2 grams
Carbohydrate: 23 grams
Fibre: 2 grams

If you gotta-have-it snacks
• Nestle Aero Singles
Per 20 gram bar
Calories: 100
Fat: 5 grams
Protein: 2 grams
Carbohydrate: 12 grams
Fibre : 0 grams

• Pringles Original Snack Stacks
Per 23 gram package:
Calories: 140
Fat: 10 grams
Protein: 1 gram
Carbohydrate: 11 grams
Fibre : 1 gram

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How to make healthy food choices at the convenience store