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Nutritionally challenged: school board makes health vending machine choices

Published 6:17pm Saturday, July 27, 2013

If you think getting your children to eat their vegetables is an uphill battle, multiply that effort by 7,000 and you will have a rough idea of the challenges Gwyn Roberson-McBride, Beaufort County Schools’ child nutrition director, faces daily.

At a recent Beaufort County Board of Education meeting, Roberson-McBride got some support from the school system’s Health Advisory Council. The council offered the school board some suggestions to increase the number of healthful food options available to students and encourage students to eat healthier.

Many of the council’s past suggestions have become school policies. In 2010, the school system started working to increase the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables offered on school menus. Its efforts got a boost with this year’s Farm to School Grant. With the extra funding, the school system was able to buy a freezer and start stocking local produce for the school year.

Last January, the school system started reducing the number of unhealthy ingredients school meals contained and introduced whole-grain products to the menus.

This year, the council recommended offering healthier snacks at school-sponsored events and in concession stands. Another suggestion was to offer healthful options for school celebrations.

The council recommended a major overhaul to school vending machines. Council members wanted to see healthful a la cart snacks offered at an affordable price to students.

The health action plan suggested eliminating all soft drinks from vending machines accessible to students. In its place, the plan called for water, 100-percent fruit juice and low-calorie flavored waters as vending options.

The vending machine recommendations have appeared in the council’s action plan for a few years. In fact, the school system started phasing in healthier snack options in 2010.

So far, Washington High School’s vending program has come the farthest, replacing all vending machines accessible to students with three machines from a company called Helping Unite Mankind And Nutrition.

Washington High School Principal Russell Holloman said his staff still has access to vending machines with sodas, but they use the healthful vending machines, which take cash and credit cards.

“We’ve liked them and the kids have enjoyed them. I don’t see a downside in them,” Holloman said.

Roberson-McBride’s department oversees the machines.

In other schools, the vending machines are not accessible during most of the school day. As explained by Roberson-McBride, vending machines must be turned off from 12:01 a.m. until the last lunch is served. That time varies per school.

The only exception is vending machines that are handled through the child-nutrition program, like the ones at Washington High School. These machines have waters, baked chips and better alternative snacks.

The council recommended making water accessible to students throughout the day and installing the HUMAN machines at each campus.

Because the plan was introduced at the meeting and in its first reading by the board, no action was taken.

FACT LIST FOR VENDING MACHINES

Beaufort County Schools will be looking for more ways to encourage healthy eating habits among staff and students.

Recommendations from the Health Advisory Council included:

-Offering healthy snacks in concession stands at school sporting events

-Pursue healthy options for school celebrations inside and outside the classroom

-Eliminate soft drinks in vending machines accessible to students

-Offer 100 percent juice and low-calorie fruit waters in vending machines

-Offer 100 percent healthy snack options in vending machines for grades K-8; 75 percent healthy for grades 9-12

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