School vending machines ditch junk food for ‘smart snacks’

By Jessica Wohl / Chicago Tribune

Published Jul 2, 2014 at 12:01AM

The school vending machine is no longer an easy place to satisfy a junk-food craving.

Under new national nutritional guidelines that kicked in Tuesday, schools that are part of the national school lunch program can no longer sell items such as Oreos and Fritos. The “Smart Snacks in School” program from the U.S. Department of Agriculture covers foods and drinks sold in vending machines, on cafeteria a la carte menus and for club fundraisers during school hours.

For years, school systems have been pushing for healthier foods on their breakfast and lunch menus. Now, schools must also make sure products in their vending machines meet new standards.

Companies that fill school vending machines have been busy preparing to ensure they have the right products. The USDA standards include limits on calories, sodium and sugar. Grain items must have 50 percent or more whole grains by weight, or list whole grains as their first ingredient.

“We’ve had July 1 on our calendar for a long time,” said Daniel Stein, vice president and co-owner of Mark Vend Co., which operates about 2,000 vending machines in a roughly 65-mile radius of its Northbrook, Illinois, headquarters, including about 75 machines in high schools.

Stein said his company will no longer stock school vending machines with one of its best-sellers, Frito-Lay’s Cheetos Oven Baked Flamin’ Hot Cheese Flavored Snacks. Stein said he expects companies to come up with new versions of popular snacks to meet the Smart Snacks standards.

“Kids are smart, and if we can put things that taste good in the machines … they’re going to buy it,” Stein said, adding that his company switched from selling the traditional Flamin’ Hot Cheetos to the baked variety about two years ago. “It’s not like it’s going to be machines filled with birdseed,” he joked.