MISSOULA, Mont. - The federal government has required schools to increase the nutritional value of school lunches. Soon similar laws go into place for any snacks sold at school.
Bonner School, east of Missoula, is trying out a pilot program for healthier treats.
Students in Bonner are used to a lot of physical and academic activity in their daily schedule. Superintendent Doug Ardiana says good nutrition is a must.
"It's very important that they have their nutritional needs met before they come to class. If they are worried about not eating breakfast, or they did not get a good healthy meal the night before, they are going to be hungry. They are going to be distracted. They are going to be more agitated and maybe have behavior problems," said Ardiana.
The federal government now says just feeding kids isn't enough. The food choices have to be healthy. That will soon go for snacks too. Before the law goes into place, Bonner is trying out options, including a new refrigerated vending machine, only containing compliant snack foods.
"In Bonner we have been very proactive in making sure we meet the guidelines while we are still providing a healthy and nutritious lunch. Through having healthy vending in our school, we are providing healthy snacks for our children," Ardiana added.
Sarah Baer of Missoula Healthy Vending says the standards are strict. "...Require that the item is either a whole grain food, a protein rich food, a fruit or vegetable..." "So, the new guidelines place limits on both the nutrients in the foods -- the percentages of fat, sugar, calories and sodium are all regulated."
With obesity a growing problem in American children, vendors say it is time to teach healthy living beyond the lunch room.
"It just makes sense to make sure all other foods sold in school meet those standards as well, to send a consistent message around the school," Baer explains.
"In a smaller, rural environment, where our students might not have access to the store, it's a treat for them to get something from our healthy vending snack machine. Then we know they are getting a quality snack," says Ardiana.
Children seem to be utilizing the healthy choices. In the first month of the pilot project, vendors say students bough 150 oranges and apples, among other compliant snacks.
The Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 spells out that all schools receiving reimbursements from the National School Lunch Program will have to abide by the new snack guidelines by July 1. Most schools in western Montana take part in that program.
The law governs any items sold in the school day considered competitive foods -- those in vending machines, a la carte lines or school stores.