Three-quarters of 18 to 25-year-olds say they use snack food to replace meals, 80% of them once or twice per week, according to a 1200-plus student survey by Boston-based marketing agency Fluent. In addition, the survey found that afternoon snacking beats out late night and evening snacking by 3:1 and a third of respondents say winter is primetime munching season, far more than those who snack most at other times of the year.

On the bright side, healthy options were often the first choice among items selected by respondents.

"Many of the results of our snacking survey contradict what most people would imagine to be true about college kids and snacking," says Fluent Executive VP Michael Carey; "the peak of college snacking actually occurs during the day as opposed to late night, and students are making relatively healthy choices. What's more, price matters a lot and students use debit cards even for these very small purchases."

Some of the key survey findings include:
• While convenience and price are clearly important in driving snack choices, the single most important factors are satisfying a craving (25% of responses) followed by nutritional information (20%).
• The top go-to snack food of choice is a granola/energy bar (25%), followed by chips (22%), fruit (14%) and baked goods (12%).
• In terms of beverages, water is tops (62%), while coffee and tea are the primary caffeinated beverages (13%), chosen far more often than soft drinks (7%); juice (5%) and milk (4%) did better overall than sports (3%) and energy drinks (2%).
• Most students (44%) rely on debit cards to pay for snacks, followed by ID card and cash (21% each).
• More than 80% report spending less than $5 per day, and 48% spend less than $3.
• While students choose familiar tastes and brands most often (43%) to meet cravings, the other top influences on their purchases are free samples (35%) and coupons (10%). Peer recommendations come in fourth.
• The bottom three rated influences on college students' snack purchases are Social media/mobile advertising (52%), Parent suggestions (17%) and On-campus signage/advertising (15%).