Maybe it’s just me, but when I hear the phrase “My lunch came from the vending machine,” it doesn’t typically bring to mind images of health and happiness.
Vending machine meals are what you do in college, during your first years in the work force as an underpaid and overworked entry level employee, or when you’re low on time and running on empty. Chips, candy, soda… the glass-front dispensary has long been a symbol for all things junk food.
But is that the vending machine’s fault? After all, it’s merely the vehicle for the tempting snacks that wreak havoc on your waistline and your cholesterol count. Let’s take a minute and imagine a different world. A place where vending machines are filled with healthy AND tasty treats.
Sean Kelly, co-founder of h.u.m.a.n. Healthy Vending, believes that world is well within reach. And so far, his company has placed hundreds of vending machines in schools, boys and girls clubs, and other kid-friendly environments.
“Traditional vending operators will tell you that healthy vending doesn’t work, or that those products don’t sell as well as junk food items,” he said. “We don’t believe that and we’ve proven that’s not the case. You need to find products that taste good, you need to find products that kids will eat. So we actually have kids sample the products and tell us if they like them.”
It’s a simple, but powerful idea. When given an array of good-for-you snacks that appeal to little taste buds, kids will bite.
The advance of healthy vending machines could be a significant step towards a change in eating habits for the next generation. Which is a big deal, considering studies have shown that childhood obesity is an increasingly serious problem in America. In fact, in 2008, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.
Poor eating habits not only contribute to weight-related health problems, they can also affect concentration and academic performance. Did you know that up to 12 percent of school-aged children skip breakfast on a regular basis? Research has shown that kids who miss breakfast tend to have more trouble focusing, lower cognitive ability and lower memory retention.
“It’s unbelievable how important breakfast is,” said Kelly. “We talk about our failing education system, and the fact that our kids are acting up, and how we’re declining consistently in world rankings and we like to explain all these complex reasons for why that it is. But don’t you think some of it has to do with the fact that the majority of kids in this country are eating something analogous to Cheetos and Coke for breakfast, or no breakfast whatsoever?”
Already, schools around the country are making an effort to provide healthier fare to students. Some schools have started offering carrot sticks and apple slices in the cafeteria, while others have eradicated soda machines on campus.
Healthy Vending is taking it one step further, by offering hot meals such as an Amy’s Organic entrées or Kashi frozen entrées that the machines heat automatically before dispensing. The machines give students easy access to a healthy hot breakfast without requiring schools to foot the bill for the overhead costs of staffing the cafeteria in the morning.
So, are healthy vending machines the way of the future? That will remain to be seen.
But if you ask me, the option to grab a Vita Coco and a bag of Pop Chips is much more appealing than a bag of Cheetos and a Pepsi. And I’ll happily give a vending machine that makes that change, my change. Although I’m still going to be pissed if my coconut water gets stuck on the way down.
Megan Sayers is the managing editor for ModernMom. Follow her on Twitter @MeganSayers