Grand Forks concession stands got healthier (whether you noticed or not)Healthier food choices are elbowing out less-healthy options at Grand Forks concession stands. And, there’s been almost no negative reaction or loss in revenue.
By: Pamela Knudson, Grand Forks Herald
Healthier food choices are elbowing out less-healthy options at Grand Forks concession stands. And, there’s been almost no negative reaction or loss in revenue.
“I was pretty surprised,” said Bill Palmiscino, superintendent of recreation at the Grand Forks Park District. “We didn’t get beat up as bad as I thought we would.”
Last fall, changes were launched at facilities managed by the park district as well as at high schools.
They ranged from eliminating some items to tweaking ingredients to introducing healthier foods, such as applesauce, fresh fruits, yogurt, low-fat milk and sliced apples with fat-free caramel sauce.
The movement toward healthier living is part of a larger effort by Take Action, a local group headed by park Commissioner Molly Soeby. The group received a $40,000 grant in 2011 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to find ways to promote a healthier lifestyle among Grand Cities’ residents.
It’s part of the government’s response to escalating concerns about the decline of Americans’ health, overall, because of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other diseases that can be linked to lifestyle.
Changes in food items at concession stands have been made “incrementally,” said Beth Bouley, the park district’s hockey concessions manager. “You have to crawl before you can walk.”
She started by reading labels, she said, looking for items with less fat and calories.
“I am not a dietician, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know a candy bar with 360 calories is not as healthy as another with 220 calories,” she said
Bouley and her staff selected five candies adults generally like and the same number for kids, she said. “We realized we couldn’t cut candy out entirely — or soda or popcorn.”
Her staff has swapped the oil used in making popcorn from one that’s heavy in trans-fats to the healthier canola oil. Soeby said there were no complaints and no decline in sales.
Instead of ground beef traditionally used in “taco-in-a-bag,” they’ve substituted seasoned ground turkey and added beans.
“I got no heat on that,” Bouley said, “maybe one complaint.”
The move “pushed way up the nutritional value and decreased fat content enormously,” said Soeby.
Cotton candy is no longer sold. Baked chips have replaced fried chips. “I did get a little flak for that,” Bouley said.
So far, the biggest complaint Palmiscino said he has heard is about the absence of Snickers bars, which were eliminated in favor of lower-calorie options. “Snickers must go with hockey,” he said.
Bouley said most changes she has made may not even be noticeable to the public. “They are not earth-shattering. I’ve been doing it gradually.” It’s an effort, she said, “to adapt and rethink what they’re eating.”
Take Action members represent a broad range of business, health care and government organizations, Soeby said.
“When we started looking at healthy choices, we chose only the evidence-based (choices) — those that had been studied across the country and have been shown to make a difference,” she said.
They selected several initiatives, including promoting children’s gardens and restricting tobacco use in parks.
Take Action wants to increase lower-income families’ access to fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers markets by installing electronic benefits transfer, or EBT, machines, which facilitate purchase with food stamps.
The group is working with restaurants to promote meals with reduced portion size, fat and sodium content and highlight foods that are nutrient-dense, such as whole grain breads, fruits, vegetables, low-fat milk and cheese, and lean protein.
Several restaurants have expressed an interest in participating with her group, Soeby said, and plan to apply Take Action stickers to items that qualify as the healthiest choices on their menus.
Leaders of Grand Forks high schools’ booster clubs have also initiated changes in concessions sold at their athletic events.
Red River High School boosters added several healthy items to the menu. After a tournament last fall, club President Brenda Rosendahl reported to Take Action that “apples were a big hit, the (low-fat) chocolate milk did OK and the string cheese did not sell. The frozen fruit smoothie, ‘Fruitchi,’ sells very well.”
Central High School boosters also added healthy items. After a December event, club President Doreen Rolshoven, reported that all but one of the 25 salads available sold, low-fat chocolate milk, yogurt and string cheese also sold out.
For the record, the park district has held firm in the face of the “great Snickers rebellion,” Soeby said. “We didn’t bring Snickers back. People were not very happy about that.”
She said she is “very proud of the park district because, quite frankly, (these changes) at first were not viewed very promisingly. People like junk food.”
Now, at concession stands, she’s pleased to hear someone say, “Oh my word, you have a salad!”
Bouley said this shift toward healthier food options are in keeping with the park district’s mission of promoting health and fitness.
But “it’s a big change for the atmosphere of a sporting event,” she said. “It’s a slow, gradual education.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
Call Knudson at (701) 780-1107; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1107; or send e-mail to email@example.com.