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Schools prepare for federal 'healthy snack' requirement

Union Leader Correspondent

August 27. 2013 9:05PM
School Nutrition Director Allison Niedbala with the vending machine at Bow High School. During the last semester, Bow hired EcoVending of Manchester to provide nutritional snacks. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

The vending machine at Bow High School is now stocked with healthy snacks. This semester the school is doing away with unhealthy snacks altogether. DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER

When now-senior Peter Murphy was just a freshman at Keene High School, Pop Tarts were a snack available in the high school's vending machines.

"I have definitely seen a shift to the more all-natural spectrum as to what they are offering in the vending machines," he said Tuesday.

Currently, one machine sells all-natural snacks on par with what you would find in an organic food market, he said.

A Snapple-like drink is about the unhealthiest option sold in the vending machines at school, he said.

"I don't remember there ever being soda in the vending machines," Murphy said.

Though most high schools have been shifting toward healthier vending machine fare in the past decade, new federal guidelines will start enforcing healthier choices in the fall of 2014.

In June, the United States Department of Agriculture announced federal guidelines for school vending machines under the Smart Snacks in School nutrition standards.

The new rules fall under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which required the USDA to establish nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools, beyond the federally supported meals programs.

Smart Snacks in School nutrition standards include adding "more of the foods we should encourage," such as whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables and leaner protein and "Less of the foods we should avoid," ones high in fat, sugar and sodium.

Knowing that the guidelines were coming, Allison Niedbala, nutrition director for the Bow School District, has been phasing out vending machines that sell soda and junk food, she said Tuesday.

When Niedbala first started working at the Bow schools 14 years ago, the three high school vending machines sold sodas, candy and other types of junk foods, she said.

She emphasizes that school food services never sold soda, and back then the vending machines were not under the purview of the school nutritionist or food service department. Like at many schools, at least one of the vending machines was dedicated to raising money for field trips and other school programs.

Even up to two years ago the high school still sold soda and some junk food, she said, but since then there have been some drastic changes.

Bow High School's Coca-Cola vending machine was replaced by one that sold water and Gatorade.

Even the Gatorade is targeted to go soon, since it is a sugar-filled sports drink, she said.

Another machine has been replaced by a vending machine that sells The Switch fruit punch, made of concentrated juices and sparkling filtered water, along with healthier snack options such as energy bars, baked potato chips and trail mix.

"I am selling Clif Bars, Pop Chips, Back to Nature Cookies and Pirate's Booty," she said.

Being able to offer energy bars and other high protein snacks is ideal, Niedbala said, since students that stay after school for sports and other activities need the boost.

Another vending machine with less healthy snacks is being replaced this school year with one with more healthy choices, she said.

Schools have till the 2014/2015 school year to comply with the new federal rules, so Niedbala is making the transition in steps.

"Some (school districts) are being proactive. Some are waiting for the last minute till they are forced to change cause they want the revenue," Niedbala said.

School lunches

Students have already had to adjust to new federal rules regarding school lunches.

To comply last year, Bow High School cafeteria had to stop selling French fries a la carte.

"And not only did the kids like it, it was a money-maker, so when you take that away, there was some outrage, some backlash," Niedbala said.

The carbonated fruit juice The Switch is also sold in vending machines in the Contoocook Valley Regional High School in Peterborough, said senior Cailin Ennis.

Like Murphy at Keene High School, she doesn't ever remember soda being sold in the school vending machines, she said.

Water and small bottles of Gatorade are also sold in the high school's vending machines, she said. The snack foods are usually healthier options like baked potato chips, she said.

"I think the worst thing they have is the Rice Krispy Treats," Ennis said.

Whether she stays late for a drama production, an AP class or a study group, Ennis said being able to grab a snack from the vending machine after school can be a life-saver.

"They are pretty healthy choices and they are affordable if you are stuck there after school if you can scrape together 75 cents you can get something," Ennis said.

Niedbala said while she understands the need for healthy eating options in schools, better eating habits are not going to stick without good habits being modeled at home.

"They'll just go home and eat their Ring Dings," Niedbala said. "It really starts at home. We can only do so much."

Health Bow Keene

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