School Vending Machines: Healthy or Not? Lessons & Activities

It was with the initiative of adding nutrition facts labels to vending machines that this lesson developed.  Like many schools we have a vending machine vending.machine.snacks.000loaded with snacks for hungry students to choose from after school.  Like most vending machines some snacks are healthier than others and I wanted my students to see if they could determine a snack’s healthfulness just by the front packaging.  Most students were surprised by their results which led to a discussion as to whether the labeling of vending machines was a good idea or not.  This lesson also has students comparing nutrition information using a snack calculator and swapping out unhealthy snacks for healthier ones; otherwise known as making a “”.

PA Standards

  • 11.3.12 C  Evaluate sources of food and nutrition information.
  • 11.3.12 F  Evaluate the application of nutrition and meal planning principles in the selection, planning, preparation and serving of meals that  meet the specific nutritional needs of individuals across their lifespan.

Note for Teachers

  • In order to complete the below activities you will need to collect a  large variety of empty snack packages in varying nutritional value.  Our school sells a lot of individual snacks in classes, as fundraisers and through the vending machine so I just set up collection points for empty packages.  Be sure that the packages have the UPC code and nutrition facts information intact.


  • Ask how many students are hungry right after school?  Almost all the hands will go up because that’s how teenagers are….hungry all the time!  I then ask them what their options are about taking care of their hunger needs.  Responses include waiting until they get home to get a snack or hitting the vending machine right after school especially if they have practice or a game before going home.
  • Ask students to brainstorm the pros and cons of eating from a vending machine and discuss their responses.  Many of the answers revolved around the nutrition of their snacks.
  • I then ask my students how healthy they think their vending machine snack choices are…which leads to having students participate in the PPT “How well do you know your Vending Machine Snacks?” Survey (created using information from the Snack Wise Database)
  • Following the survey, discuss how well students did.  Ask them what would help make them be more informed before making their selections?  This leads to “Labels or Nutrition Facts” information.  We then discuss the initiative of vending machine labels and whether they are a good idea or not.    We also discuss some of the rules associated with vending machine snacks from this article.  I got some pretty thoughtful, honest responses from our little group discussion.


  • Projector & Screen
  • Laptops
  • Snack Labels from Vending Machine Snacks (all nutrition levels)


  • Pass out the guide sheet for the project titled “Vending Machine Snacks & Snack Swapportunites” and have students complete Step 1 and then continue with below activities.
  • Place a variety of healthy and unhealthy snack labels from vending machines (with nutrition facts labels) around the room.  Individually or in small groups students will choose 6 snack products (2 they think are really healthy, 2 they know are unhealthy but taste good and 2 they think are mid-range for healthfulness) and fill out the provided chart using the nutrition facts label.  Students will then rank their snack choices from best choice to occasionally choose to rarely choose.  Students will continue to investigate the actual levels of nutrition categories for their snack selections by using the Snack Wise Calculator and answer questions and complete the below project using their findings.
  • Discuss the term SWAP-POR-TU-NI-TY with students and show them the Yoplait Commercial on YouTube that illustrates how this is done with snacks.
  • Set the premise that you’ve been asked to fill a school vending machine with various nutrition levels of snacks.  The people in charge would like to see an array of snacks that could be included and would like a visual to help them make an informed decision.
  • Students will then create a visual illustrating a “Snacking Swapportunity” based on the chart they just completed.  The visual will reflect the levels of snack choices based on the nutrition facts labels and snack wise calculator information.



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2 comments for “School Vending Machines: Healthy or Not? Lessons & Activities

  1. Miranda
    March 2, 2014 at 7:05 pm

    Fantastic! We have them at our school and did something similar—but this is new and improved!

  2. Miranda
    March 2, 2014 at 7:15 pm

    Fantastic! This is so practical as we have vending machines in our high school and I ask them all the time how nutritious what they are getting. I have even taken them as a group to the vending machines and had them write down what they think was the best choice. Thank you! Your lessons are so helpful—much appreciated!

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