I recently received a news release from a company that’s trying to grow its franchise-based business of health-food vending machines. I think it’s a great idea.

As people become more aware of the importance of making wise food choices, the market for vending machines that dispense yogurts, dried fruits, nuts and juices instead of sodas, chips and candy bars is bound to grow.

But Louisiana is always behind the curve when it comes to nutrition and health, and I haven’t noticed many health-food vending machines in buildings around here, which got me thinking: Until there are more healthful options out there, what should you do when hunger strikes and vending machine snack food is the only choice?

Local dietitian Chelsey Chapman, who specializes in nutrition and weight management, had some suggestions.

If you are craving something salty, choose nuts, baked chips, pretzels or low-fat popcorn, Chapman said. Nuts are a good choice because they are high in protein and contain healthy fats. Be careful, though, as they are high in calories, so make sure to look at the serving size on the back of the package.

Baked chips, pretzels and light popcorn are also good options because they’re low in fat and good sources of fiber. But again, be aware of how many servings are contained in a single bag. Sometimes, it’s as many as three.

If you absolutely have to satisfy a sweet tooth, look for animal crackers or granola bars, Chapman said.

Animal crackers are low fat and don’t have too much sugar. Granola or cereal bars are generally low fat as well and usually contain a few grams of fiber and protein, which can help satisfy your hunger. However, even though they market themselves as being “healthful” they typically contain a lot more sugar than you might suspect.

That said, granola bars and animal crackers are better than candy bars or regular chips, which are full of fat, sugar and virtually devoid of any nutritional value. Generally speaking, those junk food snacks will also put you over the acceptable calorie limit for snacks, Chapman said.

“As a rule of thumb, snacks should be between 100 and 200 calories,” she said. “So whatever you choose, stick to the serving within this calorie range.”

When it comes to vending machine beverages, opt for water or sugar-free diet drinks. Soft drinks and sugary drinks are “empty” calories, meaning they do not provide you with any nutritional benefits, and it’s always a good idea to avoid drinking your calories.

While those are good strategies to deal with the limited options in most vending machines, the best choice is to bypass them altogether by having a healthful snack already conveniently tucked into your purse, bag or briefcase.

“Planning ahead is the key to healthy eating,” Chapman said. “It’s not always easy, but in the long run, it’s worth it.”

For more information on this topic, email Chapman at chelsey718@gmail.com.