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Keeping Vigil on the Vending

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 as a first step in promoting healthy eating on campus. It swapped out all of the unhealthy items for new products that met the Alliance’s nutritional guidelines. Welch thought they could check that off of their list and move on to their next goal, but she soon learned that it wasn’t so simple.

The Need

“We realized that one day the vending machines would all be compliant, and then the next day they 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.

The Solution

Rather than throw in the towel, Welch decided to show the vendors that there was demand for the compliant products. “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 sent a mandate saying that by 2011 all vending machines in the state would meet these guidelines.” Having state guidelines in place gave their voices even more power when discussing changes with the vendor.

Recently two Seaman High School students decided to help Welch and the wellness council find more healthy products that their peers would want to purchase. Senior Ryder Chaffee said, “I think that smart snack guidelines are necessary for schools across the country. If you do look at the US, obesity is rising. You have to get kids started on healthier foods at an earlier age to slow down the obesity rate.”

Chaffee is leading the effort to research new products, using the Alliance’s Product Navigator, and then plans to have taste tests in the cafeteria and to solicit student feedback on potential new items. Although the products in the machines are already compliant, Chaffee feels there is an opportunity to find new options that will really appeal to his classmates. He has talked to the student council and to freshman classes. “Since they are the ones that will be here for three more years, I wanted to see what kinds of items they would like to see,” he said.

The Outcome

Welch and her wellness council have also hosted taste tests to let students try some of the healthier options, which led to more students buying them. Welch shared that having more companies now making products compliant with the Alliance’s Competitive Food Guidelines and the new U.S. Department of Agriculture “Smart Snacks in School” guidelines has also helped keep the machines stocked.

Claudia’s Recipe for Success:

  1. Find neighboring schools to approach vendors with you for healthy buying power. There is strength in numbers!
  2. Give students opportunities to try healthier products so they are more likely to buy them at the machine.
  3. Keep an eye on the products coming in and make sure the vending companies, both the sales and delivery representatives, know your expectations.