Benefits of Healthy Vending Machines in School

Keeping American kids fed is an ongoing initiative that many entities collaborate on to ensure needs are being met in schools and other institutions across the county. Data from December 2021 indicates that on average, 15 million U.S. kids ate meals at schools and other locations per day. That statistic is no small feat for the schools and individuals dedicated to ensuring nutritional needs are met, a basic requirement to support overall socioemotional health and well-being. Considering the emphasis on changing requirements and dedication to a robust nutritional program, how can healthy vending machines in schools assist in your own district’s efforts?

Below, we’ll cover the benefits of adding vending machines to any type of school or educational setting.

USDA Guidelines for Healthy Vending Machines

Believe it or not, there are criteria for what goes into vending machines to ensure the dietary requirements set forth by the USDA are upheld. What are the USDA guidelines for vending machines in school?

Beverages: At least 50% of the beverages per vending machine/micro-market must be healthy beverages. Plain or zero-calorie carbonated water must be an option in each beverage vending machine.

  • Plain or carbonated water (any size)
  • Unflavored 1% milk (up to 12 fl oz)
  • Unflavored or flavored non-fat milk and milk alternatives (e.g. soy or almond milk) (up to 12 fl oz)
  • 100% fruit juice with no added sweeteners, can be diluted with plain or carbonated water (up to 12 fl oz)
  • Low-calorie beverages with no more than 60 calories per container (up to 12 fl oz) No-calorie beverages with no more than 10 calories per container (up to 20 fl oz)

Snacks: At least 50% of the snacks per vending machine must be healthy snacks. All snacks must have 0 grams of artificial trans fat. At least four snacks in refrigerated vending machines must be fruits without added fat, sugar, or salt. At least two snacks in a refrigerated vending machine must be vegetables without added fat, sugar, or salt.

To qualify as a healthy snack, the snack must:

  • Be a grain product that contains 50 percent or more whole grains by weight (have a whole grain as the first ingredient)
  • Have as the first ingredient a fruit, a vegetable, a dairy product, or a protein food
  • Be a combination food that contains at least ¼ cup of fruit and/or vegetable

The snack must also meet the nutrient guidelines for calories, sodium, sugar, and fats:

  • Calories 200 calories or less
  • Sugar 35% of weight from total sugars or less
  • Sodium 200 mg of sodium or less Fat 35% of calories from total fat or less
  • Saturated Fat Less than 10% of calories from saturated fat
  • Trans Fat Zero grams of trans fat

Meals: At least 50% of the meal items per vending machine must be healthy meal items.

  • All meal items must have 0 grams of artificial trans fat.
  • At least two meal items in refrigerated vending machines must have a vegetable or fruit listed as the first ingredient.
  • Vegetable-based meal items packaged with salad dressing or dipping sauce are allowable if the added fat, salt, or sugar is in its own container.
  • At least two meal items in refrigerated vending machines must be whole grain-rich

To qualify as a healthy meal item, the meal item (per package) must contain:

  • Calories: 700 calories or less
  • Sugar: 35% of weight from total sugars or less
  • Sodium: 800 mg of sodium or less Fat 35% of calories from total fat or less
  • Saturated Fat: Less than 10% of calories from saturated fat
  • Trans Fat: Zero grams of trans fat

How are Healthy Vending Machines Beneficial for Schools?

Healthy vending machine options for students, faculty, and staff means having access to the right kinds of nutrition during busy school days and events. Schools are bound to breakfast and lunch parameters as far as time and offerings go, and having complementary snack and beverage options for people to seek out when the mood strikes just makes sense. Vending machines do not require staff to manage; it’s a simple strategy to improve healthy choices within a landscape where health and wellness are priorities.

Benefits of healthy vending machines in school include:

  • Easy access

  • Zero maintenance

  • Nutritional standards met

  • Encourage student independence

  • Can be used for curriculum-based activities (trends, probability, statistics)

  • Keeps students on campus

  • Promotes hydration

So, Should Vending Machines Be Allowed in Schools?

When considering what should and should not be allowed in schools, each district has its own set of standards and regulations that are specific to administration and state standards. The topic of vending machines has evolved over the years from a simple yes/no format as to whether or not machines should be installed, to more in-depth consideration of if yes, then what type, what types of items to feature, location, who has access from an administration/building level, and what type of vending distributor to partner with—and why.

As a distribution company that specializes (among other things) in vending machine solutions, our angle on whether or not vending machines should be allowed in school naturally skews to the yes side of things. We’ve partnered with hundreds of districts to provide vending machines specific to their needs. However, determining what your school or district needs is separate from the masses. A study published in the Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that even mild dehydration can negatively impact cognitive performance, especially within tasks revolving around attention span, executive function, decision-making, and motor coordination.

What does this mean in school and extracurricular activities? Kids need hydration. Inversely, keeping kids satiated and their hunger at bay during their school days might require non-traditional exploration of food options outside of general cafeteria functions. A vending machine with healthy snack and meal alternatives offers support for kids (and adults alike) looking for something quick, reliable, and relatively affordable to complement what they might have access to at breakfast and lunch times.

Get Healthy Vending Machines Based on USDA Guidelines from Bernicks

As a locally owned and operated business, Bernick’s understands how closely the success of a community and the success of its local businesses are linked. It’s an instance where we truly cannot have one without the other. And, perhaps one of the greatest indicators of a community’s future success is the health and vitality of its schools. The first thing that comes to mind when you think about Bernick’s and healthy schools might be vending. After all, we’re dedicated to meeting the USDA Guidelines for smart snacking and healthy beverage options for all ages. Additionally, keeping concession stands stocked with need-to-have products and supplying staff lounges with micro markets are other ways we keep schools supplied. But, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We offer multiple areas of support and guidance on top of our product offerings.

Another way Bernick’s supports healthy schools is by providing useful, downloadable resources geared toward supporting successful vending in schools, which are always complimentary. Check out our Gatorade Performance Kit to learn about what options we have for your athletes. Or, download our School Event and Concession Planning Guide to take the guesswork out of your planning process. Learn how Bernick's can supply and support your school by contacting one of our Reps.

Talk to a Vending Specialist


Published on: Oct 10, 2023

Topics: Vending

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