Junk Food Banned From School Vending Machines

Government limits released for healthier school snacks
teen eating a donut

By: Laura Jeffers, MEd, RD, LD

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The candy bars, soda, potato chips and other junk food fixes will be emptied out of your kids’ school vending machines. In their place, kids may find fruit cups, light popcorn and multi-grain crackers.

The government has just released new limits on sodium, sugar, fat and calories for school vending machines that will take effect next year. As a dietitian who is passionate about kids and nutrition, I couldn’t be happier. It’s another step toward curbing the growing, disturbing trend of childhood obesity, which affects one in six children.

Nix doughnuts for lunch

This decision also piggybacks on the improvements made last year to school lunches, which included requirements for vegetable, fruit, whole grain and low-fat protein servings. I think even more kids will opt for these healthier hot school lunches when they don’t have access to vending machine junk food.

Of course, it might be hard for some kids to understand why eating a doughnut for lunch isn’t good for them. Explaining it to them is one thing, but it’s always easier if we work from the beginning – serving our children good, nutrient-rich meals from an early age. Parents have a role in this that begins long before their kids even walk into a school.

Make your kids ‘nutritionally savvy’

It’s about more than limiting access to unhealthy options. It’s also about educating our kids about nutrition so it doesn’t feel like a punishment. We can do this in simple, everyday ways.

Here are some suggestions:

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1. Focus on the presentation

Present fruit and veggie snacks in an appealing way so kids will be drawn to them. Slice apple wedges and offer peanut butter to dip, which makes them fun to eat. Try dips with veggies too – whether low-fat salad dressing or hummus. Use cookie cutters to shape whole grain bread sandwiches or arrange fruit and veggie snacks so they look like faces or animals etc. Have fun and experiment!

2. Make ‘snack swaps

Replace less healthy snacks with more nutrient-rich options. Swap popsicles for frozen bananas or grapes. Or rather than pretzels, try nuts and fruit. Dried fruit can be a sweet swap for candy as well.  It’s also better to give kids snacks when they say they’re hungry rather than giving it to them as a ritual at the same time each day. This helps them pay attention to their appetites.

3. Involve your kids

To get your children interested in healthy snacking, enlist their help.  They can arrange pumpkin seeds on a cookie sheet for baking, make their own mini pizzas or put together low-fat cheese and cracker sandwiches. They can make fun arrangements of fruit and veggies on their own plates as well.

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4. Offer sweet, less healthy treats too

If you make healthy snacking fun, you can sometimes offer your kids sweets. If you don’t do it all time, offering a cupcake or sugar cookie on occasion can keep your kids from feeling deprived. Just be careful not to ever use unhealthy snacks as a reward, which isn’t how you want kids to view these foods.

5. Tell a story

Explain to your kids how food fuels their bodies and helps them think. They need to fuel up at breakfast and refuel at lunch. Be imaginative. You can explain that not eating right can eventually make their hearts work harder and slow them down when they play. Or encourage them to draw pictures showing how food gives their bodies energy.

Remember, even if you haven’t served your kids the healthiest foods at home, it’s never too late to start. When you think of the chronic diseases that can be prevented, including heart disease and diabetes, working with your family to maintain a healthy diet and weight couldn’t be more worth it.

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