Many McHenry County schools leave out candy from vending machines

If you stop by the vending machine at Heineman Middle School in Huntley, don't expect to score a candy bar.

The more likely takeaway? A 100-calorie pack of baked chips, a protein bar or a V8 Fusion.

The huge machine features a LCD screen about the size of a computer monitor. And instead of twisting coils dropping a snack from above, the machine places the selection on a conveyor belt and then cycles it to the recipient, Assistant Principal Bradley Gillette said.

"It's pretty cool," he said. "I've never seen anything else like it."

The District 158 school is one of many in McHenry County that have made big changes to their vending machine offerings in the past decade.

Six years ago, the state passed a regulation that banned non-nutritious foods during the school day in public elementary and middle schools. Under state regulations, vending machine foods must get no more than 35 percent of their calories from fat, no more than 10 percent of their calories from saturated fat, and no more than 35 percent of their calories from sugar.

Goodbye to the midafternoon chocolate and soda fix. Hello, vended veggies.

And, in cases like that at Heineman, what the new machines lack in fan-favorite offerings, they try to make up for with flashy, state-of-the-art displays.

"Of course, we wouldn't want to draw them to bad choices," said Michael Wheatley, director of the health, PE and science curriculum for District 158. "A machine full of Snickers bars we wouldn't want to draw them to."

Changes are coming at the federal level, too, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture has proposed that as of the 2014-15 academic year, all grade levels will have to follow strict guidelines on what types of food can be sold in schools, including in vending machines.

The federal rules include a variety of standards regarding calorie, fat, sugar and sodium intake. Any snack sold, for instance, will have to have 200 or fewer calories to meet the guidelines.

The rule aims to get healthier foods that contain fruit, vegetables and whole grains into the hands of kids. USDA rules only affect schools participating in the National School Lunch Program, which allows schools to receive benefits such as free and reduced lunch.

District 200 Director of Community Services Carol Smith said those new regulations won't affect Woodstock schools.

Changes District 200 made back in 2006 – swapping out fatty vending machine foods in favor of offerings such as yogurt, cheese sticks, fruit and vegetables – put the district in good shape.

"We are already compliant with all of those nutritional guidelines," Smith said.

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