Too often, pop cans and wrappers of salty or sugar-filled snacks clutter chopper, truck and tractor cabs. Yet snacks and meals while you’re at the wheel can be healthy, according to Connie Eisch, University of Wisconsin Extension family living educator in Wood County.

Eisch, a speaker at the Wisconsin Custom Operators annual conference in January, started her talk by measuring out the 12 teaspoons of added sugar that are in a 12-oz can of Mountain Dew.

“How much sugar is in a 32-oz slushy?” she asked the crowd. “Twenty-four added teaspoons. That’s as much sugar as in 130 small jelly beans. How much sugar does a 32-oz chocolate shake have? Forty added teaspoons. The drive-thru at McDonald’s might lead to more sugar than you want,” added Eisch, who is also a registered dietitian.

A first step to eating healthy is to learn how to read food labels, she suggested. Labels tell the number of calories for one serving, the number of servings packaged and the percent of daily allowances or values of fat, sodium, carbohydrates or other nutrients one serving holds.

Be wary of foods with 20% or higher daily values in fat, cholesterol and sodium, Eisch said. “That means you should probably choose something else. If it’s 5%, you’re in pretty good shape.”

A chocolate candy bar, for example, can sport a saturated fat daily value of 37%, which can raise cholesterol levels and lead to heart disease. Choosing an apple instead provides 15% of the daily allowance of vitamin C and dietary fiber.

Eating on the go may mean grabbing a bag of chips, pretzels or cookies. But rebagging a smaller portion will lower the caloric intake. “Everything in moderation. It’s those huge portions that can be a problem,” Eisch said.

One serving from an eight-serving bag of Mini Oreos equals nine small cookies. “In these nine little cookies there are 130 calories, a bunch of fat, no nutrition and 160 mg of sodium, and you’re probably going to eat the whole bag,” she said.

If you opt for fast food, consider downsizing rather than “super” or “king” sizing. “A cheeseburger 20 years ago was a small, single patty that was 333 calories. Today it’s a huge Quarter Pounder or Whopper. Serving sizes have really jumped; the fat and calories have, too.”

A large burger, fries and large soda from one fast-food chain total 2,200 calories vs. a regular-sized burger, fries and drink at 520 calories. That 2,200-calorie meal about equals the normal daily intake for a somewhat active person, Eisch said.

Less-active individuals should maintain a daily intake of 1,400-1,600 calories to keep from gaining weight, she added. Eating more fruits and vegetables keeps calories down, provides nutrition and helps satisfy hunger.

“Picture your plate as a clock,” she advised. “Have vegetables and fruit fill up half of the plate, starch a quarter of the plate and meat a quarter.”

To keep track of how many calories you eat each day, you may want to buy a calorie counter book or use a free calorie counter off the Internet, such as the one provided by google.com/ig (tinyurl.com/6fd3nny).The google counter allows a person to locate specific foods eaten for each meal, totaling the amount automatically.

Eisch told the group that she regularly has a breakfast of MultiGrain Cheerios, milk and orange juice, and, after counting out serving sizes once, she knows her breakfast each day totals about 300 calories.

“If you usually have a sandwich for lunch, you can look at the label – a slice of bread is 100 calories.” Add a couple of slices of salami at 67 calories each, a slice of American cheese at 43 calories and margarine spread at 17 calories for a teaspoon, and that sandwich totals 394 calories.

But add a 20-oz bottle of Mountain Dew for another 290 calories, plus Crunchy Cheetos at 160 calories for every 21 pieces you eat and lunch will total at least 744. If you’re hauling silage most of the day, you may find you’ve polished off the entire Cheetos bag and added another 1,280 calories. Choose, instead, a bottle of water (0 calories) and a banana or carrots, and total lunch calories drop to 450-500.

But what about diet pop, which holds no or few calories?

“I still think water is the smarter drink,” Eisch said, “but an occasional diet pop isn’t going to hurt you.”

Fill up on lower-calorie salads or soup before diving into a main-dish dinner, and you’ll eat less of that main dish, she added.

“You can eat as much salad as you want, but watch the dressing. Choose a low-fat or oil-and-vinegar dressing. If you have the dressing on the side and dip your fork into it, the salad will be much healthier for you.”

Snacks and desserts are hard to resist, so Eisch offered some healthy alternatives.

“You make the point that picking up a bag of chips is fast,” she acknowledged to the group of harvesters. “But picking up an apple can be really fast, too.” Convenience stores keep fresh fruit near the checkout counter, in as handy a place as the candy bars and chips.

“Dairy foods are great snacks. You can have string cheese on the go or slices of cheese can be ready to pop into a lunch bucket. But you have to keep track of the number of ounces you’re eating.”

Ice cream can still be an option, but choose smaller portions. A large bowl will easily hold six servings, or three cups, and at 150 calories per half cup of vanilla ice cream, that easily totals 900 calories – not including toppings. Extend a small bowl of ice cream by adding strawberries or other fruit, the dietitian said.

Cereal bars have fewer calories and more nutrition than candy bars. And carrots rather than Cheetos offer a crunch – and won’t leave your fingers orange, she said.