Healthy snacks get a teen taste test at Modesto's Davis High

naustin@modbee.comOctober 20, 2013 

— Davis High teens trying the next new thing in vending machine fare — low-cal, low-fat, low-salt — said the healthy alternatives were generally better than the sodas and sugary treats they usually spend their quarters on.

Vending machines with bags of popped chips instead of spicy fried fare, and fruit juice instead of energy drinks will be coming soon to Davis, Modesto High and Big Valley Christian School.

At Davis, leadership class students passed out samples of nuts, cheesy popcorn and apple juice at Friday lunch, giving classmates a taste of what’s to come.

Handing out cups of goldfish crackers, senior Shawn Torres said he liked the new offerings better than those currently on campus. “It’s mostly granola bars. They’re pretty stale sometimes,” he said.

Student Body President Joscelyn Guzman said the snacks were good, but the machine’s technology sold her. When supplies get low the vendor will automatically be notified. She won’t need to maintain the machine or track the inventory.

The school’s health snack machine will be available in the campus Student Body Office, open until 4 p.m. each day. Soda and sweets can still be sold up to half an hour before school and half an hour after school ends. Davis has two of the old-school vending machines in its cafeteria, said activities director Kim Dinnell.

Dinnell said an earlier program of his to give students business experience managing a school vending machine ran into problems when inventory didn’t sell. “That’s what killed us. We’d buy in bulk and then it’d hit the expiration date, and we’d have to eat it (the loss),” Dinnell said.

HUMAN Healthy Vending (the “HUMAN” stands for Helping Unite Mankind and Nutrition”) franchise owner Stuart James said his service provides the machines and buys food that meets coming federal standards. Perishable items that don’t sell are his problem, he added.

“This is a big passion of mine. When we saw what our kids were eating at school, it was nothing but junk. Sodas were everywhere,” said James, who runs the business with wife Lori James.

Sodas bubbled up on campuses as an important income source for many school sports and extracurricular programs, an income James hopes to replace. “We think we can have the same result with healthy foods,” he said.

James said a vending machine will be in place by Nov. 1 at all three campuses, earning the school 10 to 25 percent of the proceeds, depending on sales volume. He expects about $1,000 in sales each month at each school, and he estimated schools will each earn about $200 a month.

The money they make from this will be spent according to a vote of the whole student body, Dinnell said. “We want them to have input — it’s their money, they’re buying these things. We’re going to let everybody vote on spending it,” he said.

For James, the biggest challenge is finding foods that meet the new standards that he can sell for about $1 — that kids like. The Davis tasting was part promotion, part market research, he said.

The verdict: Most kids said they like the new offerings and planned to buy them. Would they give up their old favorites? Yes ... well, maybe.

As of July 1, their willpower will get some help. New federal standards will be in place regarding all foods and beverages sold to students on campus during the school day, through vending machines or a la carte lunch lines.

The change comes as new research shows teens are drinking about twice as many sodas as people drank in the 1970s. Though the numbers of younger kids drinking a sugary beverage a day have dropped in the past decade, adolescents swilling down sodas are on the rise, according to a study by the University of California, Los Angeles Center for Health Policy Research (www.publichealthadvocacy.org/_PDFs/stillbubblingover/PolicyBrief.pdf).

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at naustin@modbee.com or (209) 578-2339. Follow her on Twitter @NanAustin.

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