Call it junk if you must, but some students call it lunch

Salty and sugary treats abound in high school vending machines.
Wednesday, August 18, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:08 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

High-calorie foods such as soda, Doritos, Pop Tarts and Snickers line the vending machines at both Rock Bridge and Hickman high schools. And that’s fine with Rock Bridge sophomore Kelsey Thompson.

“Sugary foods keep us awake,” Thompson said.

A nationwide effort to remove unhealthy foods from schools has been localized in groups like the Good Food in School Coalition. Community pressure on the Columbia School Board led to the adoption of guidelines for middle-school vending machines. They were established by a collaboration of the Columbia Health Department, the Community Nutritionist and the Columbia Nutrition Services Department. The guidelines do not apply to high school vending machines.

Because high school students have open lunch, they can go off campus. Hickman junior Angela Lee thinks the machines give students more options.

“Vending machines — that’s my lunch,” Lee said.

If the machines aren’t stocked with snacks kids want to buy, they will go elsewhere, said Hickman Assistant Principal Doug Mirts.

“The healthier food just sits,” he said.

Still, some students want healthier alternatives.

“I think we need less fattening foods,” said Stephanie Callaway, a Hickman junior. “More granola bars, more healthy snacks. I get bored of what’s in there.”

For some, vending machines simplify time management.

“It’s good for after-school activities,” said Hickman student Holly Vogel. “You don’t have to go somewhere else. It’s convenient.”

Although Josh Kirkham, a Rock Bridge junior, admitted the selection is not nutritious, he said it’s still great. Josh’s mother, Debbie Kirkham, thought differently.

“I’d like to see the schools have healthier foods for students,” she said.

A new addition to Rock Bridge is the Nesquik milk machine. There are fat-free and low-fat Nesquik options, though other milk bottles contain 460 calories, with 16 grams of fat. All three high schools have water and juice, and both Hickman and Rock Bridge offer sport drinks such as Gatorade and Powerade. Rock Bridge and Hickman, the two schools with snack machines, offer a few lower-fat snacks such as pretzels and yogurt-covered raisins.

The school decides vending machine options based on feedback from students, along with what the administration thinks is best, said David Bones, administrator for building operations at Rock Bridge.

“Part of our role is to prepare kids in high school to make the right choices for the future,” Bones said. “We try to teach them to be responsible citizens — and responsible for themselves.”

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