Replacing candy with better-for-you snacks

Healthy Options Headed for Local School Vending Machines

Fat-free and soy yogurts, granola bars, fruit and grain bars, and soy crisps may become standard fare at some Polk County public schools this upcoming school year.

The snacks will be offered under a new contract with Central Florida Healthy Vending in Orlando. Some 200+ healthy snacks have been approved for school vending machines, with prices starting at 75 cents each. “We put it on our Facebook page to try to generate more interest,” says Susan Ehrhart, director of Student Nutrition. “We have had some students that requested that.”

The program is optional. “Sometimes they don’t have a location that will work,” she says. “They’re not going to be required to have a vending machine.”

Among the schools that opted into the program are Lakeland Senior, Winter Haven, Haines City, Kathleen, Lake Gibson, and Tenoroc high, as well as Lakeland Highlands and Westwood middle schools.

The vendor will be monitoring sales to see which of its 200+ items are most popular at various locations, so selections at each school may differ. Among the choices are assorted brands and flavors of yogurt, including Greek and organic varieties, assorted freeze-dried fruit crisps, oatmeal squares, rice bars, popcorn chips, and assorted snack bars.

The district launched a healthy wellness program five years ago, when it first began offering healthy snacks in school vending machines. At first, there were not that many products available. “It’s taken a little while for the industry to catch up,” Ehrhart says. “We’re just excited that there are more manufacturers that are interested.”

The district’s wellness policy prohibits so-called junk foods in machines available to students. In teacher lounges and other adult areas, it is up to the principal to decide what sort of food is stocked.

No changes are anticipated for beverages, which are supplied under a separate contract. The beverages already are low in sugar and calories, says Jenna Kaczmarski, school nutrition coordinator. “We don’t have carbonated beverages.”

Healthy snacks are heading to schoolchildren elsewhere in the United States through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Smart Snacks in School” nutrition standards announced in late June. The standards, which require more whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables, and leaner protein, will be mandatory in the 2014-2015 school year.

Florida also is promoting nutrition through its farm to school program administered by its Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS). The program is bringing more fresh, state-grown produce into the schools, while supplying additional markets to growers. “It really has gone very well. It does seem like the kids are eating healthier,” says Erin Gillespie, spokeswoman for FDACS. “We hope it will change how they eat at home as well.”



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