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The power of 100 (and Mother Nature)

October 08, 2008

Have you ever had the munchies and wished for a little something to snack on without blowing your day's calories? A new trend in food marketing is the 100-calorie snack pack.

These are a nice option, and all the math is done for you. Rather than bringing home the big bag of chips that offers no stopping once it's opened, you get a fixed number of items pre-portioned into 100-calorie packages, assuming you stop after eating only one package.

In some cases, food manufacturers might simply be putting 100 calories' worth of the original product into a smaller package, much like you could do at home using little plastic bags.

But in other cases, manufacturers are tinkering with recipes. To make these 100-calorie packages appealing to the consumer, the food manufacturers want you to feel like you've gotten a lot in that little package.

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This might mean leaving out a high-fat, high-sugar or high-calorie ingredient to meet the 100-calorie goal and still keep the package from looking skimpy. For example, some cookies might have fewer chocolate chips or lack the filling you're accustomed to enjoying.

These 100-calorie packages are appealing to consumers who are watching their waistlines, but don't want to buy special diet foods. If you choose 100-calorie snacks that offer some protein and fiber and minimal sugar and fat, you might be doing your body a healthful favor.

However, little packages filled mostly with empty calories are neither nutritious choices nor likely to be satisfying.

There are real-food, 100-calorie snacks produced by Mother Nature and packed with good nutrition. Consider a high-fiber apple, orange or banana or a few tablespoons of nuts or sunflower seeds. For a high-protein snack, enjoy a small container of creamy non-fat yogurt or reduced-sugar pudding.

A cup of sugar-free cocoa mix made with skim milk can be very satisfying, especially for those who like chocolate. For a chewy snack, have a small handful of dried fruit in place of candy.

It's not a bad idea to keep prepackaged 100-calorie snacks on hand to help you get past a sudden craving, if you don't have fresh fruit on hand when that snack attack hits. Unfortunately, you might be getting less food and paying more - up to twice as much.

If convenience is more important to you than your grocery dollars, you'll welcome this packaging concept. But if you like to get the most bang for your buck, you might choose to take the time and do your own portioning in little plastic bags.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer services educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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