Vending machines

Disclaimer: this is not from the school in which I work, but from one I visited another time. My school does not have a vending machine.

Like I said in a previous post, there will be some gaps in school lunch consumption in February.

So instead of my usual lunch post, I’m sharing a photo I took of a vending machine that I saw at a different school. When I walked by the vending machine, I was taken aback. It was visually shocking. What you see are lots of pop*tarts on the bottom, rice*krispie*treats on the top, and some generic peanut butter cracker/cookie sandwiches. I felt obligated to take a picture of the vending machine because it startled me. I did it as discreetly as I could and I tried to keep moving so I don’t know how much the items cost.

I should also say that there was another vending machine nearby that held the usual assortment of chips, chocolate, and candy.

Many schools have given up vending machines due to the belief that they are making children obese. I think there are many kids who eat unhealthy foods right after school. If you have a vending machine snack that has upwards of 200 calories every single day after school, you will start to gain weight.

I was trying to find more articles about vending machines in the schools. What I did find were some companies that are trying to develop healthy vending machines. I personally like this idea a lot. What do you think? Is there such a thing as a “healthy” vending machine?

Here are a couple companies that I located online:

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28 thoughts on “Vending machines

  1. I was on my junior high school council. We led a campaign to get a juice vending machine installed outside the cafeteria. It would have contained only an assortment of real fruit juice. The administration refused to consider the idea, not for health reasons but because they were afraid it would become a "hangout."

    You know, hangin' out down at the juice machine… It's what all the cool kids do…

    Anyway, that juice probably still would have packed some serious caloric punch, but it would have been better than drinking from the water fountains pulling from the polluted acquifer underneath the factory next door.

  2. hungry – The hangout at my high school was at the steps to get into the vending machine area. It was nerve-wracking to weave my way through to get a snack – I didn't do it very often. If your dollar wasn't accepted, the social embarrassment factor was high! 🙂

  3. Maybe because it was cheaper to buy from the caf or at a nearby corner store, but the vending machines were never popular at my school, and I think most of them were just for soda pop anyway.

    I'm from Toronto, Canada though. The obesity problem isn't as severe in Canada as it is in the U.S. It's so strange but just when I cross the border to the States, I instantly see a jump in the number of rotund people in the general population. And a jump in what is considered a "small," "regular," "large," and "extra large" drink at fast food places.

  4. Yes. There is such a thing as healthy vending machine. My school has one and all of the students are complaining because they want "real" junk food. For example, all the chips are baked and they offer kashi bars and such. Some machines even have veggies, larabars, luna bars and fruits!

  5. There can definitely be "healthy" vending machines. Just look at other countries – the things you can get in Japanese vending machines is amazing compared to ours! And it sounds like "Anonymous" above has seen healthy ones in the US too. I hope there is a shift towards these.

  6. Hey,

    I walk around a lot of high and primary schools in SLovenia, and most primary schools don't have any vending machines. No food or drinks or coffey. I've seen some "healty" but they are mor or less limited only to selling fresh apples in the machine. But I have no idea how much people use them.

  7. I understand that the kind of vending machine snacks that you're talking about are unhealthy in your own right, but I disagree with your statement that a 200 calorie 'snack' will cause you to gain weight – it really depends on the concept of that snack.

    Some people, like myself, have a high metabolism and find it much more comfortable to eat small amounts regularly, every three hours or so. I aim for around 250 calories at each small meal (plus more for dinner and lunch), so choosing one of those snacks alongside my usual healthy diet would not cause me to gain weight.

    However, if all you did was eat bad food for breakfast, bad food for lunch and bad food for dinner, then a regular consumption of snack food isn't going to do you any favours.

    I wish people would understand the idea of a 'good calorie', you need energy to survive and the goal isn't to eat as few as possible, but to eat as much as you can of the good (rather than empty) kind.

  8. There's an organic yogurt company that used to have an idea for healthy vending machines. I used to buy their baby yogurt for my son when he was a baby. I went looking for it to post the link, and it looks like they've given up on the idea, which makes me sad. BUT, it looks like there may be a new company that is doing a similar thing. It looks good:
    I don't know. It's possible it's the same company, but I don't remember this stuff. Anyway, thought I'd share.

  9. When I was a school kid in Washington State, our only vending machine dispensed huge, juicy (the kind that runs down your arm when you bite into it) Red Delicious apples. They were so good the machine was always out before fill-up day. What I wouldn't give to taste an apple like that again. Hardly anyone I know likes to eat a mushy, mealy Red Delicious these days. Still, I bet vending machine filled with Braeburns and Fujis would be mighty popular.

  10. There are healthy vending machines, for sure. I'm a college student, and we have several on campus that dispense apples, yogurt, string cheese, sandwiches, bagels and the like. Maybe I'll take a look today and see who the company is. I've actually given up vending machines as my personal resolution during 2010, and I've already seen huge changes in my life. Despite having healthy vending machine options, I often gave in to buying things like Junior Mints. I am really pleased to see your blog, as it's a topic I've always felt passionate about. If we're going to change obesity in the U.S., it needs to start with nutrition. I think there's been too much emphasis on exercise (also important, but not the real culprit), while we're still feeding American school children rubbery greasy pizza and fake nuggets. I'm looking forward to following and supporting your blog!

  11. What a great blog! I read about you on Grist. Really visual, visceral way to draw attention to the issue. I wouldn't be able to stomach the meals for a week, much less a year!

  12. My middle school had a milk vending machine and they can buy granola bars. That is it. The milk machine is empty at times.We have a snack break during the day when they can eat a healthy snack. We do have a soda mchine but it turns on 40 mins after the students are dismissed. Usually the kids are long gone.

  13. I'm assuming this vending machine was at a middle, or high school. Here, those are the only schools allowed to have vending machines. The machines are only turned on after school for the students who stay afterschool for sport, activities, or make up work. You yourself said somedays you were hungry by 3 o'clock. Imagine being an active, growing teenager. Yes, many need a 200 calorie snack to make it to dinner. Our vending machines only stock food that meets certain nutritional guidlines. I think the food item must meet 10% of daily reccomendations of certain vitamins, minerals, or protein. Beleive it or not , I think Poptarts, Rice Krispie treats and Peanutbutter items do offer some nutrition. At least it is not candy or greasy chips. Please remember the caloric needs of an adult woman are not the same as a growing teenage boy !
    The Anonymus Lunch Lady

  14. This isn't really related to your vending machine post; I can't actually remember if any of my schools had vending machines, but we did use to have like a 15 minute break at my high school where we could buy snacks. You could buy chocolate chip cookies, hot pretzels…I'm sure there were other things.

    I DID want to say that Thursdays at the elementary school where I student teach are "nachos grande" days. The kids LOVE them, but I honestly don't think I could ever eat it. It's ground beef (high quality, I'm sure…), nacho cheese (like the cheez-whiz melted kind), tortilla chips, and you can get salsa, sour cream, etc. Thursday we had lunchbunch with some of the kids; a few of them had nachos grande PLUS a bag of potato chips. They can also buy icees with their lunch. They sometimes have salad or carrots on their plates, but most of the kids don't touch the veggies. Also, all of the condiments are self-serve – I'm sure you can imagine what happens when you let a six year old serve ranch dressing to herself…

  15. I unfortunately do not believe there to be such a thing as a vending machine. That is not to say that everything that has ever been housed within a vending machine is inherently unhealthy; they just tend to contain overly-processed, calorie-dense, nutrient poor foods that are loaded with high fructose corn syrup. And these things are tasty to kids, which is really the only thing they care about. I would love to see a company take charge and make vending machines exclusively with healthful options, or a school district take initiative in offering healthful snacks after school. Part of the problem, though, is that kids (unless their parents have taken to eating right) do not care about things like calories or processing. They just want something they perceive as tasty, and it is people like us who have to worry about the repercussions of this kind of thing.

  16. I think healthy vending machines are a fantastic idea for kids who need a snack, especially in light of what I consider (personal opinion here, this is just me speaking) to be pretty awful school lunches. I certainly couldn't eat them, but I didn't grow up eating much junk – it was too expensive to feed my large family! And I'm pretty thankful for that now.

    The vending machines at my school were unhealthy, but thankfully I didn't often have money to spend on snacks, and my interest in cooking (supported by my mother's interest in keeping a well-stocked fridge) meant that I had a good variety of healthy and tasty packed lunches. Schools in Australia rarely have cafeterias like these, though, so packed lunch is definitely the norm. However, we still have the same problems with obesity as in the USA – so I think the problem still stems from insufficient food education. I only wish I knew how to contribute somehow. Ideas, anyone?

  17. I found my way to this as, for some reason, you blog linked to mine, which is to do with music and not food.
    I agree with your thesis and,strange to relate, it ties in with some thoughts on food that we have been discussing of Facebook. Too much food is not the whole problem…

  18. @grumble kitty – Mrs. Q's first link is actually YoNaturals.

    I was going to comment on vending machines in general, but seeing that video from the first link irritated me. I don't agree with selling VitaminWater under the guise of "healthy" food. Just because Coca-Cola (parent company of Glaceau) says VitaminWater good for you, doesn't make it any less sugary or caloric (I linked to an article below). At least 100% fruit juice actually counts towards a kid's fruit allotment for the day!

  19. When I went to school (granted this was a long time ago), the only vending machines allowed were those that distributed apples… yes, real apples. They cost a dime, and were restocked/replaced regularly. These machines actually had a tendency to be used so much that they would often run out before they were restocked! Too bad schools couldn't revisit this idea- where only whole fruit is sold, not even the "healthy" snacks that are still highly processed foods.

  20. We have a "healthy" vending machines. We have one that's full of dairy and pre-packaged fruit. And then others full of juice, chips, etc. and ice cream. You're given the option to be healthy.

  21. My school has various vending machines that are almost always out of order, but I'm in high school, so it's different. One has ice cream, there are a few Vitamin water ones, and a few snack ones with poptarts, chips, etc. When I was in elementary school we had two vending machines: one with Snapples, and one with ice cream. The line for the ice cream was almost always longer than the line for actual food.
    I have a question– does your school serve "snacks"? By reading this I'm guessing not, but when I was younger, about 20 minutes into the lunch period, they would start selling snacks– chips, cookies, slurpies, etc. Most kids didn't buy lunch and would buy snacks instead.

  22. In my middle school, we had two vending machines. One for soda/juice/milkshakes, and one for ice cream. Yes, you heard me, ice cream. I had many friends that would skip the school lunch and only have an ice cream treat and a soda for lunch, every single day. Luckily, a year later, they took it down.

  23. When I was in high school, I had swim practice about 30 minutes after I got out of class. Not enough time to eat a complete meal, but I needed something to be able to get through my 2-hour varsity practice without passing out. I ended up eating a snickers bar and drinking a bottle of water when I got out of class every day. I was tasty and provided enough calories to get me through practice, and was only 75 cents. I did not gain any weight from starting this trend because I would immediately burn the calories. I suffered when the school decided to take candy out of the vending machines. Although I understood why they did it, I don't think it made much of a difference… there was a gas station right next to the school and kids just started buying their candy and junk food there instead. I think it's not so much of a "having the vending machines" problem, but more of a "how kids use them" problem, and children and teens should be educated about calories and how weight gain is actually caused.

  24. @Devika

    I've also seen "healthy" vending machines that are stocked with what corporations try to advertise as being healthy. For example, there's this new brand of chips called "rice works" that I'm fairly certain aren't a bit healthy. Anyway, they do have one of these purported vending machines at my university, and I at least enjoy the variety. It still has unhealthy snacks like chocolate bars, but it also has some healthier alternatives like trail mix, for example.

    @Mrs. Q

    Eating a snack that is 200 calories doesn't mean that you'll gain weight. Gaining weight is as simple as taking in more calories than you burn.

  25. A concept well before it’s time? or “Back to the good old days”? I graduated in 1975, and my high school in the San Fernando Valley of California always had a fresh fruit vending machine. Oranges and apples. I never once got one myself, but the swim team guys always did 🙂 I wonder if those type of machines are still there?

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