Healthier foods come to summer concession stands

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JEFFERSON CITY - Healthier food options at concession stands are expanding to more Missouri pools and ballparks.

This season Columbia pools began offering healthier choices from frozen grapes to PB&J Uncrustables.

This shift to offering fruits alongside the traditional nachos and soft pretzels is aided by a statewide program called "Eat Smart in Parks."

The University of Missouri Extension runs the program in cooperation with Missouri State Parks, Missouri Parks and Recreation Association and the Missouri Council for Activity and Nutrition.

The program looks at parks' menus and assists them with changing their menus and working through the challenges associated with the change. The type of change depends on taste testing and interviewing conducted at specific sites.

The program helped the Jefferson City Parks and Recreation Department examine the sugar content in some of its snack offerings and helped it bring in variations of some of its snacks. This involved changing some ingredients in smoothies to make them healthier and switching to offer baked potato chips.

The Jefferson City Parks and Recreation Department introduced a few healthy food options to its pools, ballparks, and ice arena three years ago.

Laurie Herzing, the recreation supervisor with Jefferson City Parks and Recreation Department, explained the department reached out to University of Missouri Extension because they wanted to help the community.

"To help the community but to also help the kids that eat here daily, a lot of times they go to the concession stand, so we wanted some healthier options even just for our staff for a snack then always grabbing a snicker or a popsicle whatever we have over there," Herzing said.

Now its pools and ballparks have more and more healthy food alternatives with the most popular being the frozen grapes.

Herzing admits sales on the healthier alternative will not be beating out nachos anytime soon.

"The healthy stuff isn't usually the number one, but you can see that it is growing," Herzing said. "The first year we just had the frozen fruits, and we added a few more items and those are starting to pick up."

Herzing said she thinks when people come to the pool they consider it a special day and usually get a special treat that usually involves sugar.

The biggest change, Herzing said was lowering the price of bottled water to match the price of the soda products. She said it's not hard to offer a few items.

"Sometimes for concession stands there's not a whole lot out there or the price really jumps up, so we had to take that into consideration," Herzing said.

"Eat Smart in Parks" program hosted two kick off events this season in Moberly and Liberty.