100-Calorie Snacks: Beyond Cookies

Friday, September 21, 2007 - 4:07pm

By Donna Feldman, MS, RD

Portion control is big. Big portions are out; smaller ones are in. Manufacturers have jumped on the bandwagon, and the result is the 100-calorie snack. Dozens of familiar snack foods have been re-packaged into small bags that yield about 100 calories each. Nutrition advocates have mixed feelings about this trend. While portion- and calorie-control are admirable, the actual foods in the packages can leave a lot to be desired. Most seem to be cookies or crackers, with a hefty dose of sugar or salt and not much nutritional value.

Why 100 Calories?

There's nothing magical about the number 100 when it comes to calories. It's just an easy number for consumers to digest (pun intended). The 100-calorie portion size is probably best suited for dieters and young children. A lot of the appeal with these prepackaged snacks is the convenience and shelf-life. Kids can take them to school, or grab one after they get home. You can store a big package in your desk at work. A 100-calorie snack pack can help prevent mindless overeating by putting a physical limit on how much you eat, as long as you don't rip into a second or third bag.

Make Your Own

With snack-size plastic bags or small plastic containers, you can easily make your own 100-calorie snacks, and control the nutritional quality. From applesauce to peanuts to grapes or chocolate chips, here are some examples of how much makes roughly 100 calories:

  • 1-1/2 cups grapes
  • ¼ cup raisins
  • 1 cup unsweetened applesauce 8 saltines
  • 4 cups raw broccoli
  • 8 pecan halves
  • 25 baby carrots
  • 3 oz sliced turkey
  • 2 rounded TB peanuts
  • 2 TB chocolate chips
  • 20 pickle slices
  • lettuce with 1 TB Italian dressing
  • ½ pita pocket (about 1 oz)
  • 2 TB almonds.

As you can see, some items are calorie-dense, and 100 calories isn't very much food. Vegetables are the biggest portion sizes. This list could go on and on. You can approximate 100 calorie portions of other favorite foods by referring to one of the many web-based food composition databases, such as that provided by the USDA.

No Extra Packaging Needed

Many foods come pre-packaged in portions that are roughly 100 calories. Fresh fruit comes closest to the ideal. Examples include a large (6 oz) apple or 1 medium (4 oz) banana or a large navel orange. Many yogurts are packaged in small sizes close to 100 calories. Other examples of prepackaged 100-calorie snacks include a 3 oz can of water-pack tuna or one package of string cheese. Some granola and energy bars are roughly 100 calories, but check the labels to be sure.

Conclusion: Convenience versus nutritious

For convenience and portion control, 100-calorie snacks are a good idea. Most of the available pre-packaged choices are traditional snack foods like cookies, crackers, and chips. More nutritious choices will be those you package yourself. The trade-off is less convenience; unless, of course, you stick to naturally convenient choices like apples, bananas and oranges.

Information on calories is from Bowes and Church's Food Values of Portions Commonly Used 16th Edition, by Jean Pennington. J.B.Lippencott Co.