The Changing Face of School Vending Machines

The Changing Face of School Vending Machines

Famous for junk foods and soda, school vending machines are starting to offer healthier options. Find out what's behind the trend.

By By Jane Schwartz Harrison, RD, Contributing Writer, myOptumHealth

Have you taken a good look inside the vending machines at your child's school lately? Depending on where you live, you may be unhappy with what you see...or pleasantly surprised.

The USDA regulates the foods served in the breakfast and lunch lines, which must meet certain nutrition requirements. Not so for vending machines. That's because vending machines are categorized as "competitive foods." Food sold at fund raisers, school stores and snack bars are also tagged as competitive foods.

Change for the better
With childhood obesity now on the rise, parents, the federal government and the media are putting pressure on schools to crack down on junk food sold on school premises. As a result, some state governments have stepped in.

Several states have now banned soft drink sales from all school vending machines. Others allow students access to vending machines, but only during certain hours. Some states still have no restrictive laws in place.

Snack and beverage companies have also stepped up their own efforts to offer healthier fare to schools, helped in part by the national group Alliance for a Healthier Generation. Its mission is to reduce the nationwide prevalence of childhood obesity by helping kids make healthy lifestyle choices. They are working with school districts and snack companies to offer milk, water, dried fruits and nuts as healthier alternatives.

What can parents do?
Consider that your children spend an average of 35 hours a week in school. Many of them eat breakfast and/or lunch while they are there, as well as snacks from the vending machines. That's why it's important for schools to continue to take a vested interest in the foods sold on campus.

Your children's health is at stake. If you're concerned about the junk food that may still be showing up in your school's vending machines, let your voice be heard.

  • Check out your child's school to see what vending options are currently on site.
  • Encourage school officials (such as the principal, your child's teacher, the school gym/health teacher, school board members) and parent groups to push for nutritious vending snacks and beverages.


  • Alliance for a Healthier Generation. Healthier school foods and beverages. Accessed: 12/12/2011
  • Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Alliance for a Healthier Generation and Industry Leaders Set Healthy School Beverage Guidelines for U.S. Schools. Accessed: 12/12/2011
  • School Nutrition Association. Recommended school beverage guidelines released. Accessed: 12/12/2011
  • United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service. Healthy schools. Accessed: 12/12/2011