Posted by: SmithaM | October 26, 2011

Vending fresh food: Any takers…?

Vending machines (VM) have been a staple feature of school hallways and dining areas. From selling sodas and candies through the 1900s to healthy snacks now, VMs have supplied a wide array of foods and beverages. Providing extra income to the institutions and businesses they are housed in, VMs have  continually faced opposition to the items they sell.  Parents have experienced a loosing battle with the VM industry, and business agreements between the schools, fast food & soda industries, and VM industry have undermined nutritional meals in schools.

Read about the history of school lunches and VMs in schools.

Now, VMs that stock healthy snacks and fresh food are increasing. There have been hundreds of healthy VMs installed in schools nationwide. The changes in VMs, particularly in schools have been the result of at least the following three:

1. Restrictions on sugary drinks, candy and other  unhealthy snacks sold in schools.

2. Enforcement of nutritional requirements for foods sold in schools by a number of states.

3. A perceived market demand for healthy food vending machines due to the increasing awareness of healthy and fresh foods.

However, the actual use of healthy VMs seems to vary. Some schools have found it tough to sell healthy foods, while others have seen an increase in the preference for healthy and local foods offered by the new machines:

…Like many schools across the nation, Commack High School on Long Island is stepping up its war on junk food this year.

Its new cafeteria vending machine — a lighted panel on the front shows sliced apples and oranges against a backdrop of lettuce — is part of a pilot program intended to encourage students who skip lunch or stay late for sports to make better choices.

“By fostering healthy snack vending options, we support the lessons that are taught in the classroom and at home,” said Donald A. James, the superintendent of schools.

But so far, potato chips are winning.

Commack’s healthy machine sold 296 items totaling $388.75 from Sept. 1 to Sept. 19, less than one-third of the sales made by a nearby machine that offers less nutritious fare. Moreover, the top-selling item from the new machine was baked potato chips — less fat than fried chips, but less than ideal — with almost no takers for peach smoothies, roasted edamame or fresh pineapple chunks…

Read the complete article

Combined with timers (to restrict VM access and not compete with school lunch) and a stock of local food, a Tennessee middle school’s healthy VM has been a winning story.

Read the article

The mixed success of healthy VMs in schools seem to be due to the higher cost of healthy snacks, the availability of unhealthy snacks and beverages in regular VMs, and preference of regular VMs. The preference of unhealthy snacks by kids is seen to echo the preference for unhealthy fast food:

…In the US today there are nearly 5.4 million vending machines and almost seven percent of them are located in elementary, middle and high schools. Scary, but even scarier is the fact that until recently most of those machines were not even close to healthy. Not that it really matters? Though school districts across the country are trying to bring healthy vending machines to their hallways, they are finding the same thing that fast food companies have found: People don’t go to vending machines for healthy food.

When the Times went to check out a healthy vending machine in action at a Long Island high school, it got this wonderful quote instead: “This is way too healthy for a snack,” said John Achnitz, 15, a 10th grader. “Kids want healthy stuff like baked Doritos, but not an apple that they can get at home free.” Put another way, the school’s “healthy machine sold 296 items totaling $388.75 from Sept. 1 to Sept. 19, less than one-third of the sales made by a nearby machine that offers less nutritious fare.”…

Read the complete article

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