For decades, there have been ongoing debates about whether vending machines should be allowed in schools. Students are in school anywhere from six to eight hours a day (or more if you include sports, clubs and activities), and access to snacks and drinks helps children and teens stay fueled. However, parents and administrators are often concerned about the quality of the items found in school vending machines.
The good news, however, is that both the USDA and the CDC have supported the idea of healthy vending machines in schools and have provided both guidelines and regulations for those machines. School vending machines that stock only healthy snacks and drinks limit students’ choices to items that are low in fat, sodium and sugar and provide them with access to quality snacks to fuel their bodies and minds.
Should Schools Have Vending Machines?
Parental concerns about the quality of foods found in school vending machines are not necessarily unfounded. In the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, school vending machines typically only stocked candy, chips and sodas with perhaps one or two healthier options. And if given a choice, many students would choose a candy bar over a bag of carrot sticks or a sugary drink over water. So, should schools have vending machines?
Some still believe the answer is no, but it’s not necessarily the best solution. There are actual benefits to offering students healthy vending options, and the best answer is to provide students with access to vending machines that meet federal dietary requirements and limit their access to unhealthy snacking options.
Healthy Vending Machine Options
Healthy vending machine options are perfect for schools because students can’t necessarily run out in the middle of the day to grab a snack if they need one. School vending machines that meet governmental requirements provide convenience without contributing to poor dietary habits.
According to the standards and regulations set forth by the FDA’s Smart Snacks in School standards, there are limits on fat, sugar, sodium and calorie count. Smart Snacks in School fall under the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs, and schools that receive benefits under these programs are obligated to provide healthy snack access, as well. To qualify as a Smart Snack, healthy vending machine options must meet general nutrition standards:
- Be a grain product that contains 50 percent or more whole grains by weight (have a whole grain as the first ingredient); or
- Have as the first ingredient a fruit, a vegetable, a dairy product, or a protein food; or
- Be a combination food that contains at least ¼ cup of fruit and/or vegetable; and
- The food must meet the nutrient standards for calories, sodium, sugar, and fats.
The nutrient standards for smart snacks are:
- Calories: 200 or less
- Sodium: 200 mg or less
- Total fat: 35% of calories or less
- Saturated fat: less than 10% of calories
- Trans fat: 0
- Sugar: 35% by weight or less
Benefits of Vending Machines in Schools
When the food and beverage options are healthy, there are many benefits of having vending machines in schools:
- School vending machines encourage healthy snacking habits: The FDA’s school dietary regulations require healthy vending in schools, which means those machines can dispense everything from fruit and nuts to milk, cereal and yogurts. When students are limited to healthy snacks during the school day, they start to develop habits that will stick with them throughout their lives.
- Vending machines provide options for kids with dietary restrictions: One of the hidden benefits of healthy vending machines in schools is quality options for people with dietary restrictions. Children with food-based allergies or food sensitivities are often left out of school lunch options or snack options. Healthy vending machines offer snacks and drinks for people with common dietary restrictions.
- Healthy snack options fuel concentration: No one can concentrate when they are hungry, and this is especially true for children and teenagers. An important benefit of vending machines in schools is quick access to healthy snacks during breaks. Those snacks can help fuel focus and concentration throughout the school day.
- Healthy vending machines create accessibility: Accessibility to healthy foods is a huge concern for schools in areas designated as “food deserts.” Food deserts are areas (typically in very rural areas or in inner cities) with limited access to affordable and nutritious foods. Healthy vending machines in schools give children access to quality drinks and snacks during their break times, and they can purchase snacks to take home, as well, since the nature of vending is grab-and-go.
- Healthy vending also benefits school staff: Remember, schools are staffed by teachers, therapists, support professionals, administrative professionals, maintenance staff and more. These individuals can also benefit from healthy vending machines in schools.
- Peace of mind for parents: Parents who strive to feed their children healthy foods can worry when their kids go to school. During the day, they have no control over what their kids choose to eat in the lunch line or between classes. However, when their snack access is limited to quality food and drink, parents can rest easy knowing their kids aren’t going gorging on chips and soda.
Vending Machines Raise Money for Schools
Schools are expensive to maintain, and every school in a district has budgetary requirements they must meet. These include everything from utility bills to supplies to field trips and more. Healthy vending machines in schools can create an additional revenue stream for schools. The larger the population of a school, the more vending machines can be placed in the building, and the more revenue can be generated.
While some schools may stock vending machines on an individual basis, most districts contract with a single vendor, giving them the rights to place their equipment in each school in the district. Large districts can generate as much as $100,000 per year in additional revenue by contracting with quality vending services.
Healthy Vending Machines in Schools – The Statistics
With so many restrictions on the types of foods that can go into public school vending machines, you may think that school districts have opted out of vending machines entirely, but this is not the case. Schools across the country see great benefit in providing their students with on-the-go healthy vending options.
What Percentage of Schools Have Vending Machines in The US?
The data around how many schools have vending machines fluctuates, but one thing is certain. The older the school’s student population, the more likely the school is to have vending machines.
- 14% of elementary schools have vending machines
- 90% of middle schools have vending machines
- 98 percent of high schools have vending machines
So, even with state and federal governments limiting students’ snack choices, schools still see the benefit of providing healthy vending machine snack options for children.
Are Vending Machines Good for Schools?
Healthy vending machines can be good for schools. As we’ve covered, there are great benefits to healthy vending machines for students and staff, and they provide an additional stream of revenue for the school itself.
Benefits of Healthy Snacks for Students
Healthy snacks help develop healthy children. Providing healthy vending machines in schools can help improve students’ health, academic performance and overall well-being.
- Healthy snacks provide much-needed nutrients: Growing children and teenagers need more nutrients than adults to support healthy body and brain development. The absence of healthy snacks for students can have a real impact on a child’s development.
- Healthy snacks support academic success: Children who are fueled by sugar and bad fats run out of energy quickly and have trouble concentrating. Nutrition and academic performance are intrinsically linked. Healthy snacks fuel kids with natural energy helping them focus and concentrate, boosting performance.
- Healthy snacks boost well-being: We all know how groggy and sluggish we feel after eating a meal of fast food or gorging on unhealthy snacks. When children are fueled by healthy snack foods, they are more alert, their digestive systems perform better, they have more energy and mental sharpness, and they feel better about themselves.
How to Choose Healthy Snacks for Kids
You don’t have to be a dietician yourself to choose healthy snacks for kids in schools. When it comes to vending machines, you simply need to choose partners who understand federal guidelines, provide snacks with transparent labeling and offer a wide variety of healthy snacks and beverages to appeal to both young students and high schoolers.
The healthiest vending machine snacks for schools include:
- Nuts and seeds
- Meal replacement biscuits
- Dried fruits
- Nutrition bars
- Water (still or carbonated)
- Real fruit juice
- Non-dairy smoothies
Unhealthy snacks in school vending machines include:
- Candy bars
- Salty potato chips
- Sweetened teas
- Snacks laden with high fructose corn syrup
- Cakes, cupcakes, etc.
- Cup noodles
How to Get a Vending Machine in a School
Despite such a high percentage of schools having vending machines, many still do not, and others could benefit from upgrading. As the leading healthy vending machine company in the US, we are well-versed in the Smart Snack program and offer great options for schools and students.
Whether you’re looking replace and upgrade your existing vending options or add a new healthy vending machine in your school, we can help. Contact Naturals2Go today!