The following is a guest post written by Anita Courtney,  Chairperson of the Tweens Nutrition and Fitness Coalition (TNFC). TNFC, formed in 2003, is funded by the Centers for Disease Control to  address childhood obesity.  (KY has the 3rd highest rate in the nation.)  The coalition’s mission is to make healthy eating and physical activity popular and accessible to tweens in their homes, schools, and communities.  If you’re not familiar with the term “tweens” it refers to the 8-13 year old demographic, in between childhood and the teen years.   For more information, you can contact Anita directly.

“I’ve seen kids drinking the nacho cheese like a beverage at the public pools. The concession stands don’t have any healthy options for kids.”    Casey Hinds, mother of two, made that statement at a  Lexington Tweens Nutrition and Fitness Coalition (TFNC)  meeting in the fall of 2010.  Brian Rogers, Deputy Director of Enterprise for the Lexington Department of Parks and Recreation, was also at the meeting and said, “We can do something about that.”

In the summer of 2011, Parks and TNFC partnered to bring a healthier menu to the city’s Woodland and Southland Aquatic Centers. This menu— called Better Bites—featured eight healthy items promoted on large, brightly colored signs posted at concession stands and in other places around the two pool facilities. The Better Bites menu did not replace the concession stands’ traditional menu, but it did get  prime placement near the ordering windows while the standard menu was posted  farther away.

Original Parks and Recreation Pool Concession Menu

Pool patrons check out the Better Bites menu at Woodland Aquatic Center

In the first year of implementation, about 10% of sales were Better Bites items, while the old standbys cornered 90% of the market.    Pool patrons at Castlewood  Pool requested  Better Bites at their pool, which only had vending machines and no concession stand.  With a small amount of success and community support, the partners decided to go back for another summer to see if more community engagement, an expanded menu, and better marketing would increase sales of the healthier items.

A subcommittee met throughout the winter months to design  a menu that addressed taste, price, nutrition and  ease of preparation and storage.  Parks agreed to add more healthy  items to the menu, improve some of the unhealthy items (e.g., turkey dogs, trans fat free oil for the fries, smaller portions)  and to offer an exclusively healthy menu at Shilito and Castlewood Pools on weekends.  We held a Better Bites Needs a Slogan Contest  that elicited over 600 submissions with the winning slogan—Snack Strong—coming from 8- year old Caitlyn Smith.  The coalition employed Bullhorn to design the logo and create the signs.  Pool staff wear t-shirts and visors with the logo and samples are given out to promote sales.   Click here to see the new menu.  See some of the posters below that now adorn the pool walls.  (Thanks to the Bullhorn team –Adam Kuhn, Angela Baldridge and Lindsay Rall—for the great posters!)

Local youth posed for Snack Strong posters that are now posted at public pools

Designed to get you saying—I’m thinkin’ Better Bites

The Parks and Recreation team–Brian Rogers, Concession Manager Charlotte Jordan and the pool staff– deserve a big round of applause. They are changing a long standing tradition and as we all know, change ain’t easy. Even the smallest change starts a chain reaction of other changes and every change involves a risk.  They ‘ve taken  losses on products that haven’t sold and complicated their operation.   But as Brian says, “We’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do.”

It’s encouraging to note that other partners have joined the Better Bites initiative.   The Lexington Legends adopted the brand and made all the offerings in the kids’ section healthy and the Beaumont YMCA’s pool patrons are snackin’ strong too.   The more venues that offer nutritious food , the more normalized it will become and the more we’ll all learn from each other.

If you think transforming the food landscape has merit, you can play a part. Every time you go to the Legends, the pools or the Beaumont YMCA, buy a Better Bite.  In fact, buy a round of Better Bites.  (Hey everyone, the Better Bites are on me!)  If you see a concession stand in need tell them about Better Bites or tell us about them. Like us on Facebook:  Better Bites (Lexington).

Together we can help change the food landscape, in part, by Snacking Strong.