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At High School, Pit Stops Add 21,000 Calories in Two Hours

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

"I'm so glad I go to BHS. I'm so glad I go to Bladensburg High . . ."

Students shove open the bin flap and grope for their 75-cent Rice Krispies Treats.

"Glory! Hallelujah! I'm so glad . . ."

Teens gossip in Spanish next to the idle milk machine.

Nearby, students frantically pound the buttons on the near-empty Snapple machine.

A student with a broken hand fumbles with $1.25 before punching the right buttons. A1: Cheetos Baked Flamin' Hot (120 calories, 4.5 grams of fat). F2: Welch's fruit snacks.

For a $1.85 school lunch, these students could gobble up pizza, collard greens, fresh fruit and calcium-fortified juice.

Instead, many are spending $2 to $3 on vending goods.

At 1:10 p.m., a group of three girls is clutching two bags of Cool Ranch Doritos (140 calories, 7 grams of fat) in each hand, while balancing bottles of Hawaiian Punch (300 calories and zero fat) under their arms. A sophomore boy, with a Kermit the Frog backpack, returns to the machines for a third time for more chips and a Rice Krispies Treat.

At 1:14 p.m., the last lunch bell beeps and the crowd surges away, leaving a trail of empty bottles and deflated chip bags in its wake.

Bladensburg students have bought 186 items, spending a total of $130, devouring 21,000 calories and 629.5 grams of fat. Eleven of the 24 wire-coil snack slots are empty. Kiwi-strawberry drinks are gone. No one bought a milkshake. The profit from sales go to district's food and nutrition services.

"Wait an hour and they'll be crawling back," said Michael Vincent, who has worked in the cafeteria for nine years.

As midday hunger sets in, students start banging their fists on the cafeteria windows: "Mr. Mike! Mr. Mike! Please, please!" Vincent unlocks the door and lets them swarm the machines again. He said he would rather see students munch on the vending machine's baked chips than candy bars sold outside of school.

"Hey," he said, "I love 'em."

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