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Getting Kids To Choose Healthy Snacks

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, May 17, 2007

Grant Hunt of the Grant J. Hunt Company who has had such success in supplying Tesco in the far away U.K., is experiencing problems closer to home.

For example, in his children’s soccer games and Little League games, it seems that not all the young athletes look forward to the Hunt family’s turn to bring snacks. Seems that Mr. Hunt has gotten the reputation as the “produce man” come snack time. The kids want cookies and chips but Mr. Hunt will only give them produce.

It could have gotten ugly but Grant has found something that works. Just as in The Graduate, where Mr. McGuire told the young Benjamin Braddock about plastics, Grant gives all us parents out there a tip on how to win the kids over: "I just want to say one word to you — just one word — Watermelon".

While Grant lugs watermelons to his children’s games, his parents Jim and Elizabeth Hunt support a Boys & Girls Club in St. Helena, CA and Jim, who, like his son Grant, served as Chairman of the PMA, sends along this scan of a club newsletter in which the club manager wrestles with his desire to offer healthy snacks for sale in the club.

But a Boys & Girls Club is not a prison and children are free to leave. This poses a dilemma:

The Great Debate: Candy vs. Healthy Food at the St. Helena Club

Some parents have mentioned to me or various staff members that they do not understand why the Club has candy and other sweet snacks for sale and would like to see the Club offer something more nutritional. The sweet treat vs. nutritional treat has been the dilemma for me as the Club Manager.

Currently, I have brought in a good assortment of healthy and kid-happy snacks. I have brought back granola bars, but ones that the kids suggested I buy. I do sell sodas, but only Hansens (no caffeine). I have brought in popcorn, various fruit chews and 100% all-natural “smushed” fruit items. Some of these items sell well, some are the last thing to go at the end of the week, but I am trying to find a happy medium.

As a parent myself, I understand parents’ concern with having their children eat healthy, but the reality is when given the choice of buying an apple at the Club or heading off campus to get a super sour candy atom bomb pop, many Club Members will end up going to one of the local stores to get their afternoon sugar snack.

Over the years I have worked at the Club, I tried various snacks that were healthy: granola bars, apples, dried fruit, baby carrots, etc…. Unfortunately what the staff noticed happening were more and more kids began going to the Big Dipper either right after school, off the bus, or they would leave the Club after they checked in.

The amount of time my staff spent tracking down children trying to sneak down to the Big Dipper, or the time spent finding kids who had permission to go to the Big Dipper, but stayed there over 30 minutes, increased dramatically. I had parents, whose children were constantly getting in trouble for trying to sneak away from the club, asking me if the Club could offer some “candy” type snack. They were concerned about their child’s safety.

As Club Manager, I must also think about the safety of all the members who attend the Club. The more time my staff spends looking for kids, the less time they are conducting activities and supervising.

One advantage of the new Club (hopefully opening in September of 2007), is that the staff will be better able to monitor who enters and leaves the Club. The Club will also have a kitchen, so there will be opportunities for kids to “make or bake” snacks. Greater refrigerator space will allow the Club to have greater variety of more perishable snacks. If you would like to volunteer one day a week, a month, or occasionally as a “guest chef” and help the kids create some delicious healthy snack, please let me know.

This is the Club’s present snack policy: Club members are limited to two snacks per day. Staff will encourage members to choose at least one nutritional snack. If a parent wishes that their child NOT purchase “sweet” snacks, they should talk with their child and inform the Club staff. Although Club staff will not take “sweet” snacks away from members, they will at least remind them of their parent’s wishes and make every effort NOT to sell them “sweet” snacks. If you have any suggestions, I am more than willing to listen.

— Trent Yaconelli, Club Manager

Many thanks to Grant and Jim for sending on this newsletter because in a “real world” way, Mr. Yaconelli captures the dilemma that adults face in trying to get children to eat well.

There are many positive programs out there working on this problem such as the PMA/PBH/Scholastic initiative that we wrote about here. Or the Food Dudes program we highlighted here. Or even the Jr. Pundit Primo’s suggestion to the boss at his school cafeteria right here.

Yet when you really study Mr. Yaconelli’s note you realize it is expressing cultural difficulties that will make solving this problem very difficult.

After all, it is not surprising that children want candy or will seek it out. The undertext of Mr. Yaconelli’s note is of a loss of adult authority. Parents, unable or unwilling to watch their children, give them candy because they fear for their safety sneaking out to get some. Children who blatantly will defy their parent’s wishes not caring who knows or sees.

Setting the ground rules for children, enforcing them, teaching them the value of deferring gratification, enforcing standards of conduct and right living — this is what parenting is all about. And if we expect the managers of Boys & Girls Clubs, no matter how competent or well intentioned they may be, to handle all this for our children, childhood obesity will be the least of our worries.

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