by Valerie Verkamp
Landmark assistant editor
For many, the sweet and salty snack options offered inside vending machines are hard to resist, especially for young children who are more commonly concerned with satisfying their sweet tooth rather than counting calories.
Experts say learning the importance of selecting healthier food options at a young age is critical to their health later on in life.
Kansas City Community Centers are making it easier for patrons to select healthier snack options at a more affordable price than the traditional unhealthy snack choices.
All 10 Kansas City community centers across the area, including Line Creek Community Center, are tossing out all vending machines loaded with junk food and rolling out healthy snack options sold at concession stands or at the center's front desk.
Previously, most centers only offered snacks and beverages that were administered from a vending machine without anyone coaching them along. Even though the vending machine company offered to swap out junk food items with healthy food items, Terri Rynard, deputy director of Kansas City Parks Community Center, said the community centers saw this as a unique opportunity to educate youth on what constitutes a healthy diet and why it is important.
“We feel that a person-to-person connection is important. Healthy food choices are being sold directly by staff,” said Rynard.
Patrons needing more of an incentive to select healthy snacks will be happy to discover that the more nutritional snack options cost less than junk food. Healthier snack options such as granola bars, fruit snacks, protein bars, Powerade Zero, and bottled water range anywhere from $.50 to just $2 per item.
For those not quite ready to ditch their favorite salty or sweet go-to snack, hot dogs, nachos, and candy bars will still be available for purchase at the Line Creek Community Center. New management recently took over and said the center won't revamp its concession menu until this spring.
The transition to healthy food options is a collaborative effort between the Missouri Health Department, Kansas City Parks and the University of Missouri Extension. The program, dubbed Eat Smart, evolved from surveys and feedback requesting healthier snack options.
“More than 80% of respondents felt that healthier options were important,” she said.
Affordability, convenience, and nutrition were identified as top motivating factors for purchasing healthy food options.
Eat Smart is partially funded by a Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) Grant awarded to the Missouri Health Department by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
YMCAs are also serving healthy snack options to members and their employees. Pistachios, protein bars, pretzels, and apple fruit snacks are sold out of Human Healthy Vending machines that are equipped with a 23” digital LCD screen that shows nutritional product information. The Human Health Vending program is free to YMCA's.
At the YMCA in North Kansas City, parents are discouraged from providing snacks to their children while they are in child watch. The center has a Human Health Vending machine but is currently loaded with junk food.
When the YMCA took over the North Kansas City Community Center on Jan. 1, it tossed out several vending machines.