Schools provide healthy snacks and limit timing for others
Students each lunch and have time to grab healthy and unhealthy snacks. | Sun-Times Media file photo
Updated: May 6, 2013 2:10AM
LINCOLNSHIRE — Students may be regularly served lessons in healthy eating but local public schools aren’t prepared to ban junk foods altogether.
When Stevenson High School began stocking its beverage machines with Pepsi, instead of Coca-Cola products back in January, teens saw the return of a dietary staple: Mountain Dew.
Yet they aren’t getting their hands on the lime-green drink or other sugary beverages first thing in the morning. Flavored water, iced teas and juices are available instead.
Vending machines are programmed to limit the sale of Mountain Dew and other pops until after 3 p.m., before school dismisses at 3:25 p.m.
“I can’t say they’re not getting it anywhere else but they’re not getting it here,” said Jim Conrey, the school’s public information coordinator.
He said another supplier provides snack foods, such as candy bars and chips, but students typically don’t have the time to swing by vending machines in-between classes.
Most purchases are made during lunch periods and after school. And in the cafeteria, students don’t eat only the burger-and-fries type of fare. They can choose to munch on healthier options, like salad and tofu.
Other ways in which healthy habits are encouraged at school is by offering physical education five days a week, and requiring students to take a health education class sophomore year that “hammers home ideas of good nutrition,” Conrey said.
“That’s where kids learn about how certain foods are made and about eating certain things,” he said.
While some schools, and even states, have gone so far as to outlaw bake sales, Stevenson’s only rule is that its Parent Teacher Organization host such food events.
Other than that, the high school’s rule of thumb is to educate and provide options to students and to ultimately let free will rule.
“Our feeling has always been students need to learn to take responsibility for not only learning but for making smart choices,” Conrey said. “We’re not going to follow every student around the building and stop to see what they get at a vending machine.”
“They’re spending their own money.”
In addition, schools that “go completely healthy” sometimes see all those greener, more nutritious food items get tossed out instead of eaten, Conrey said.
He said the impact foods have on revenue is an aspect of the discussion that sometimes gets left out.
Conrey said schools rely on vending machine and cafeteria services for additional money.
Under a five-year contract with District 125, Pepsi is paying the Lincolnshire school $505,519 to provide its products in vending machines and at school-related events. Coca-Cola’s offer was $309,679.
Conrey said much of the income from vending machine sales at Stevenson goes toward funding after-school programming.
“Students pay for a pop and it turns around and helps a fellow student,” he said. “You have to have some balance in life.”
Lincolnshire-Prairie View School District 103 stopped selling pop at its elementary schools a few years ago by removing beverage machines. Other sweets are somewhat restricted, too, but for different reasons.
Two years ago the K-8 district implemented a new snack procedure at its three elementary schools to better prevent against and manage life-threatening allergic reactions.
Under the new guidelines, students may eat cheese, yogurt, fruits and vegetables at their desks in classrooms.
Parents are encouraged to refrain from sending any nuts or products containing nuts to school with the exception of personal lunches.
For birthday parties and holidays, only individually-wrapped treats in original packaging that are free of nuts are allowed. The ingredient list must be provided.
District 103 Superintendent Scott Warren said the “pretty tight” snacking policy is intended to keep students safe, and is made known to parents via letters sent home and the district’s website.
Despite the need to monitor what foods students bring into a classroom setting, the schools value the importance of snacking by young learners.
“Just like (for) adults, it gives (students) a little boost during the day,” Warren said. “The brain needs to be fed.”
“If you get that nutrition in, you get to concentrate with a stomach that’s not growling.”
Snack time is tied to curriculum in some of the early childhood education classes, and health is also explored in science courses.
“We’ve heard good stories if kids who changed their eating habits after learning how foods interact with the body,” Warren said.
“We think we do a pretty good job of helping kids with making choices about healthy treats.”