We Tried It: The Salad Vending Machine
A few years ago, I worked a job with many late nights when we were always having to 'hurry up and wait.' When boredom-hunger struck, there was nowhere to turn to but the vending machines. Though their contents were a fun treat once in a while, your body can only handle so many M&Ms, Cheez-Its and Twix bars. Making the "healthy" choice wasn't much better when it meant punching in the code for a sad, stale, sugar-laden granola bar.
I wish Farmer's Fridge has been invented back then. Essentially a vending machine for salad, these credit-card operated refrigerators are loaded with fresh greens, bowls, and wraps and are strategically placed in hospitals and airports – places you may find yourself in need of something beyond sugar for sustenance. Brilliant, right? Or, are they just another vehicle for delivering sad prepackaged grab-and-go salads?
When I paid a visit to one of these local fridges at a hospital near my apartment, I came upon a modern machine with a large touch screen. A lit window showcased the goodies inside: plastic mason jars containing crisp looking layers of greens and veggies or noodle and burrito bowls, chia puddings and yogurt parfaits along with some packaged wraps. There's a core menu of dishes along with seasonal items and chef collaborations that keep the rotation reliable yet new. The fridges are restocked multiple times a week, and I hit this one soon after it was replenished, so almost all the slots were full – and nothing looked sad. (Shelf life depends on the item, and each is labeled with an "enjoy by" date to ensure its fresh; they'll even stay good for a few days in your own fridge.)
Tapping on the touch screen gives you all the info about each offering, ingredients are clearly labeled and things such as nuts, dairy and wheat are called out in a separate line. Most items are plant-based, but sides of chicken or eggs can be purchased separately for animal protein. If you like to plan ahead, or need to double check the you can also read the menu online, or download the app to order ahead from the fridge.
I was excited to see the Smoked Cheddar Cobb, my favorite salad, and decided on some cookie dough bites as well. I easily chose my selections and paid with a credit card. I got a kick out of watching the electrical arm race over to my containers, select them and release into a cubby underneath the touch screen.
I took my bounty home and I noted how vibrant everything looked; the lettuce, tomatoes, hard boiled, eggs, carrots, corn and smoked cheddar were all crisp and fresh. The salad was tasty and a nice portion for a small meal or large snack. My only issue was that I associate Cobb salad with bacon and blue cheese and this had neither, though had I read the ingredients more carefully, and paid attention to the word "cheddar," I would have realized this and could have ordered a side of chicken to meat it up a bit. Regardless, I still enjoyed it. The cookie dough bites were definitely on the healthy side, made with cashew oats and maple syrup, and safe for raw consumption. Though not as indulgent as traditional dough, they were a tasty and satisfying finish to my meal.
As a company, Farmer's Fridge is committed to all the good stuff: using fresh whole foods in their meals, paying their staff fairly, composting leftovers and donating meals regularly. Their jars are recyclable (or also come in handy for reuse around the house). If you're enjoying a a meal on the go, the jars can go right in the fridge's own recycling bin as is, no need to wash.
I'm seriously loving that this is now an option while on the go and they've smartly outfitted many airports with the fridges, including Cincinnatti, Indianapolis International, JFK, LAX, Milwaukee's General Mitchell, and O'Hare, just in time for a busy holiday travel season. Eat one while you wait or bring a jar on the plane – it's a compact snack that won't spill. They also offer a subscription-less delivery service so you can stock your own fridge with some healthy lunches for home or to take to work – or to load up before you travel. They've also recently started a partnership with Target, selling items as easy grab-and-go meals and continuing to make affordable, healthy meals even more accessible. For a list of all retail and fridge locations near you, click here.