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Smarts About Snacks

One local school struggles to provide healthier snack options for its students, while still supplying tasty choices.

Although Bladensburg still sells such snacks as Mrs. Freshley's Powdered Sugar Mini Donuts, taking the reins on sales is the first step in reforming the snack business in schools, Townsend said. Nestle's Nesquik milkshakes, with calcium and Vitamins A, C, D, and Snapple 100% Juiced, with calcium and Vitamins A, C, E, have replaced Coca-Cola, which has no vitamins.

The drinks are hardly sugar-free or low in calories, however. In terms of sugar and calorie content, a 13.5-ounce bottle of Nesquik (360 calories, 48 grams of sugar) trumps a 12-ounce can of Snapple (170 calories, 40 grams of sugar) and an 12-ounce serving of Coca-Cola Classic (97 calories, about 39 grams of sugar).

Under pressure from nutritionists and parents, some Washington-area school systems have established standards for the fat and sugar content of snacks sold in machines as well as items sold in school stores and as part of fundraisers.

In 2004, after years of selling soda, Montgomery County limited approved drinks to water, flavored noncarbonated water, 100 percent fruit juices and fruit drinks with a minimum of 50 percent juice. The school system allows sports drinks to be sold, but only near physical education areas.

The D.C. Public Schools policy rejects sports drinks. For nonelite athletes, like children, Gatorade just adds extra calories, sugar and sodium to diets, nutritionists said.

Yet vending machines are often low on the nutrition to-do list.

Jeff Platenberg, who oversees food service at Loudoun County Public Schools, said he has heard of McMahan's Smart Snacks and is interested in talking to her. Now, however, he is focused on changing the school lunch program, with plans to offer trans-fat-free margarine and whole wheat pasta.

"My focus is to have students participate in meal programs," he said. "Having snacks would detract from that."

A look at Manassas Park High's Smart Snacks vending machine illustrates that change doesn't have to be district-wide. Schools can tackle the problem on a smaller scale.

Last year, Manassas Park's snack machine was stocked with doughnuts and chips. In September, the 100-calorie pack Soy Crisp minis, with 3 grams of fat, took students by surprise. Even though the all-natural snacks cost 25 to 50 cents more than other snacks, sales have not dipped, school officials said.

When Manassas Park's last bell rings at 2:15 p.m., the vending machine opens for business. Sophomore Jessica Conaway stays at school until 6:15 p.m., either for cheerleading practice or the spring musical. She used to pack her own snacks, but now she buys a Clif Bar, with 27 vitamins and minerals, to hold her until dinner.

"With sports," she said, "you don't want to be munching on a bag of Doritos before you run a mile."

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