This story from Seaman High School in Topeka, Kansas shows that despite the best intentions of schools and the hard work of teachers, trying to create an environment with healthier vending choices can be extremely difficult and time consuming. National standards on competitive foods sold in schools would complement recent updates to the school meal programs and are a crucial step in addressing the childhood obesity epidemic. Schools and teachers need to have support from administrators to make these changes effective.
When physical education and health teacher Claudia Welch signed up her school for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program her wellness council decided to take on the vending machines. It swapped out all of the unhealthy items for new products that met the Alliance’s nutritional guidelines. Welch thought the school could check that off of its list and move on to the next goal but she soon learned that it wasn’t so simple.
“We realized that one day the vending machines would all be compliant and then the next day it would be junk again,” said Welch, who explained that what they requested for the machines was not always communicated from the sales department down to the delivery person. “We decided to meet with other schools nearby and try to band together since we all wanted healthier products. That helped when we could show that we had buying power. Then the state school board became involved and sent a mandate saying that by 2011 all vending machines in the state would meet these guidelines.”
Welch feels like Seaman High has been through the vending trenches and it still has to be vigilant about watching what is delivered. There are often communication problems between the sales people and the delivery people. The district decided to put timers on its vending machines and tried to use that as an incentive for the vending company. The vendors were told that if the machine was stocked with healthy items it would be left on during the day but if not it would be turned off until after school. On the school end, Welch and her wellness council hosted taste tests for students to let them try some of the healthier options which has led to more students buying them. Welch also commented that having more vending companies now making their products compliant with the Alliance’s Competitive Food Guidelines has also helped keep the machines stocked with tasty products that the students want to buy!
Claudia’s Recipe for Success:
• Strength in numbers: Bring schools together for healthy buying power.
• Give students opportunities to try healthier products so they are more likely to buy them at the machine.
• Keep an eye on the products coming in and make sure the vending companies, both the sales and delivery representatives, know your expectations.
Show your support for updated nutrition standards for snack foods sold in schools!
Ready to improve the vending machines and a la carte foods in your school? Join the Healthy Schools Program today!