Healthy Student Vending Needn’t Be An Oxymoron?

hsv_logo1.jpgYoNaturals Healthy (Washington Post photo gallery here) could hold a promising win-win solution for schools who want junk out but options in…

Their pilot program has morphed into a runaway success, lightyears from where they were just a year ago, to reinvent the concept of what a ‘snack’ machine should be. They’re giving school districts easy ways to get started with healthy vending, replacing high calorie items with those that are organic and all-natural, fit SB19 nutrition guidelines, and appeal to kids as well.

But IS there such a thing as ‘healthy vending’ and ‘snacking naturally’ short of produce?

The Washington Post’s excellent five-part series, Young Lives at Risk shows a snapshot of how vending machines gobbled up kids’ coinage in less than two hours, with 21,000 calories consumed in a flash…

Healthier snacks are still ‘snacks’…Does this help or hinder the nutrition equation overall? What about fresh produce? Milk? Organics? Vending machine sandwiches? Where’s the line? To vend or not to vend: one of many school nutrition and cost/accountability conundrums…

While kids feed quarters into machines and junk into their mouths, as today’s Washington Post article conveys, it makes me wonder whether we’re “making headway or heading nowhere.”

yozone1.jpgThat said, I’m guardedly optimistic as I re-interview the YoNaturals team with an update to find out more about their new ventures.

So far it seems like an encouraging development in ‘healthier snacks’—meeting the needs of kids who want to “snag a bag” en route from point A to B, while offering nutrition gurus and parents peace of mind…BUT…I’m obviously still concerned this won’t preclude the ‘3 bags of crackers and a juice’ snack mentality over a whole meal.

Universities, health clubs, offices and recreation centers make sense…not sure if it’s ‘too cool for school’…

Your thoughts? Kids? Educators? Coaches? Administrators?

Shaping Youth Correspondent Rebecca Scritchfield will be getting back to us shortly with her dietary take on all of this and product analysis, meanwhile, Washington Post Health and Nutrition columnist Sally Squire offers some food for thought with her own healthier snack and breakfast options plus juice advice.

For years Sally’s column has been in my inbox, just as CSPI’s Nutrition Action Newsletter keeps me abreast of ‘chem cuisine’ and ‘food porn,’ guiding me by branded breakdowns of kids’ foods and “better bets.”

skittles21.jpgThe whole ‘candy contraband/kids obesity’ issue borders on absurdity when CNN videos show entrepreneurial kids selling the goods in trench coat style and Skittles suspensions by schools. Look, I don’t want junk in schools either. But…Expulsion? “Psssst! What are you in for? “Um, cupcake party.” I mean c’mon. How hypocritical is that?

A boy is ‘captured but cleared’ in knee-jerk over-reaction yet school administrators get a hallpass for swapping out soda for sports drinks to limbo under the law and scoot into compliance with new nutritional guidelines?

Sounds like ‘bait and switch’ wellness tactics and ‘junkwashing’ to me…not to mention I know schools have more serious issues to concern themselves with for suspension…

I’m big on moderate, mindful eating just asking all players on the wellness board to simply do their part by putting kids health first. Period.

So now we’re back to the same ‘point-counterpoint’ question…Does healthy vending belong in, near, or around schools? Sound off…Here’s Dr. Robyn Silverman’s editorial highlights from the Washington Post series:

drrobyn_profile3.jpgFood for Thought?

How Schools are Filling Our Kids with Junk

by Shaping Youth Correspondent Dr. Robyn Silverman

For me, this is an issue of “worth” rather than “weight.”

As we’ve covered in the past, A 2001 Harvard School of Public Health study found that for each soda or juice drink a child drinks a day, the child’s odds of becoming overweight increase 1.6 times.

Two angry Moms, Amy Kalafa and Susan Rubin, would be horrified. With their documentary, they’ve been trying to make headway with the schools with regard to changing their food plans and vending machines over to providing healthier options that stimulate the mind and the body during school hours.

There are some success stories but as highlighted by the Washington Post this morning, there are also many schools that are failing or flailing as they try to balance what children want, what is feasible within their budgets, and what is actually good for the children and teens to consume.

Consequently, many teens are not making healthy choices.

Flores smooths her bills against the machine and tries once more. Out falls her meal – 530 calories and 25 grams of fat, or French Onion Sun Chips and Linden’s big fudge chip cookies. Ka-ching. Ka-ching. Ka-ching.

“I wouldn’t call it lunch,” she said as she gathered her change of 75 cents. “I know it’s not healthy, but it’s not like they’re selling fruits.”

So while the airwaves are flooded with people crying “obesity!” and “unhealthy children!” and many of our children are suffering from poor body image since we’re stressing dieting and appearance over eating healthy foods and exercising, here many of our school stand, providing sub par food choices to our children.

So much for feeding the mind and bodies of our kids. Vending machines may be considered the enemy, but they are our children’s schoolmates for about 8 or more hours everyday.

To students, the machines are often an alternative to long lunch lines and sometimes unappetizing food.

We’ve done such a poor job for so long that schools feel that they must “phase in” good foods slowly so not to “shock” the children.

Bladensburg’s vending machines are more healthful than most, and fewer than half the school’s 2,100 students buy snacks and sodas from the machines on a typical day. Rice Krispies TreatsSnickers (150 calories, 3.5 grams of fat) are an improvement from bars (280 calories, 14 grams of fat). Baked chips have replaced fried.

Yes. But can we call it lunch? And while Rice Krispy Treats are “better” where is the nutrition? I mean, it’s seems like we’re comparing unfiltered cigarettes to filtered ones–one might not be as bad but they’re still all bad for you.

Problems kids are citing that lead them to the vending machines:

(1) Long lunch lines

(2) Unappetizing lunch options

(3) Lunch is too close to breakfast (often just an hour and a half after the kids arrive)

What about “cheaper?”


For a $1.85 school lunch, these students could gobble up pizza, collard greens, fresh fruit and calcium-fortified juice. Instead, many are spending $2 to $3 on vending goods.

Chef Anne Cooper, famous “lunch lady” revolutionizing school lunch in Berkley, California (and sister to Powerful Words Mom and friend, Ruth Cooper and Aunt to Powerful Words student Abby!), recommends:

  • Children ages 6-9 should aim for 4-7 servings daily
  • Children ages 10-14 should aim for 5-8 servings daily
  • Teens ages 14-18 should aim for 6-9 servings daily

And no, the Rice Krispy Treats DO NOT constitute a whole grain!

As well as:

  • 4-9 servings daily of veggies
  • 3-5 servings daily of fruits
  • 2-3 servings daily of calcium-rich foods/drinks
  • 2-3 servings daily of lean proteins
  • 3-4 servings daily of healthy fats
  • 2-3 servings per week of red meat at most due to it’s high saturated fat
  • Added sugars and fats should be eaten rarely
  • 8 glasses of water

So what are we fighting against?

Top Vending Machine Sales, according to Automatic Merchandiser

1. Snickers

2. Doritos Big Grab

3. Peanut M&Ms

4. Cheetos Crunchy

5. Cheez-It Original

Read the full list.

So what are we supposed to do?

We can’t get the manufacturers to stop making the junk food. And in our rush-around lifestyle, we still need convenience.

(1) We can educate our schools and form a committee to help choose good foods for your children’s schools

(2) We can screen the movie “Two Angry Moms” in your area to educate the community. Yes, you can too! Powerful Parent Media Expert and Correspondent, Amy Jussel of Shaping Youth, is doing just that in San Francisco!

(3) Get your children into after-school programs that provide exercise. Powerful Words schools have excellent physical programs. If you need a recommendation of a school near you, please contact us.

(4) Brainstorm new options that provide healthy options for the children in fun, creative, and modern ways.

According to an interview with Risa Lavisso- Mourey, President and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (an organization devoted to healthcare in America):

“I’m not in favor of going back to the 50s or 60s. We’re not going to solve this problem by taking a “retro-view” We’ve got to find 21st century solutions to how you can re-engineer activity back into the very busy schedules we all have–re-engineer making healthy choices and eating healthy and being able to do it in a quick, accessible way that fits the environment and lifestyles that people have now.

—Risa Lavisso- Mourey

She would like to see a society in which:

(1) Restaurants allow you to see the nutritional information with regard to what you’re choosing to put into your body. Nutritional information should be available, accessible, and displayed readily.

(2) Schools guarantee healthy, nutritional guidelines are met for breakfast, lunch, and after-school.

(3) Exercise is encouraged and engaged in everyday. Providing creative ways for children to have 30-60 minutes of physical activity everyday is essential in schools and after school programs.

As adults, we are the ones who create the environment for our kids. We do have a moral and ethical responsibility to make sure it’s as good or an environment as we know how to create.

—Risa Lavisso- Mourey

Would you like to see Risa Lavisso- Mourey’s complete 5 minute interview? See it here.

Let’s hear it from the boy:

Noah Horn, age 12, didn’t care about eating healthy or exercising until his father dies of a massive heart attack when Noah was in kindergarten. Noah connects his father’s sudden death to his unhealthy lifestyle, weight, diet, and lack of exercise. Amazingly, Noah made a conscious decision not to follow in his father’s footsteps–a path he had been taking until his father’s unexpected passing.

He tells the Washington Post:

“If I’m not exercising or eating the right foods, then I might end of like him. I might get heart disease, have a heart attack and die. So after that I decided to eating healthy and exercising more.

He made small switches:

(1) Ritz crackers to… wheat crackers

(2) Ice-cream to… frozen yogurt or sherbert

(3) Deep fried chicken to…”regular” baked chicken

(4) Almost no exercise to…trying to exercise everyday (even if just walking)

While Noah still needs to work on his cholesterol and he understands why eating foods with a lot of cholesterol is unhealthy and can be life threatening, as with his father. But a very high price needed to be paid.

“I’m not glad that he died but I am glad in a way because if he didn’t die then I wouldn’t be healthy.”

And while you might be pondering if Noah feels like his choices have been taken from him or he is no longer in control, hear this:

What makes Noah feel powerful?

“It makes me feel powerful that I’m winning over the bad cholesterol. I’m the winner over not exercising and eating bad foods. I am the winner. It makes me feel very powerful.”

It’s time to make some switches. Children’s positive body image and health are in part dependent upon feeding the body with foods that nourish them, physical activity that excites them, and adults that show they care.

Get your children on board and discuss some changes, even small ones that you can make today. What’s one thing that your children and your family can do today that could make a difference? Our children’s future is dependent upon it.

Dr. Robyn Silverman (full bio here) is an ongoing Shaping Youth contributor and leading Child and Adolescent Development Specialist with a focus on character education and body/self esteem development during childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood.



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