New ‘smart’ vending machines promote healthy eating

The Healthy Vending program, from Horizon Software International, a food-service technology company, makes healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables available in vending machines and can track students’ purchases so parents know what they’re eating.

Another entry in healthy vending is DeliZone by VendSMARTT from S-L Technologies. According to the company, breakfast or lunch selections are automatically set up based on the time of day. A la carte selections are available at any time. S-L Technologies has been working to implement the program with administrators in the Corpus Christi Independent School District in Texas.

Such smart machines come with full meals or component-based selections, which give students the opportunity to buy several items, such as apples and carrots, to make up a full meal.

Students enter a PIN into a keypad, scan a bar code, or swipe a card. The machine uses that information to determine the student’s lunchtime status (for instance, whether the child is eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch) and prompts the student for his or her lunchtime selections.

Healthy Vending is based on software technology that connects all vending machines to the school’s or district’s central point-of-sale system. These vending machines are enabled with Horizon OneSource, a food-service operations management system.

Food-service workers are able to determine healthy choices for the Healthy Vending machines through back-office menu planning and nutrition analysis. The system displays the nutritional value of items with the touch of a key, and it can help students learn about the nutritional value of the foods they eat.

"Junk food from school vending machines is one of the primary reasons for extra weight in children," said Bob Williamson, chairman and CEO of Horizon Software International. "Healthy Vending replaces junk vending choices with healthy choices."

Popular food items include hoagies, salads, apples, grapes, carrots, and milk, said John Tatham, director of Healthy Vending for Horizon Software.

Healthy Vending can identify students making purchases and track what items each child is buying from the machines. Parents can log on to their child’s account and view what their child has purchased in the vending machines on a specific day.

The system can be extended if a school uses Horizon’s MealpayPlus, an online pre-payment system that lets parents pay for their child’s lunch online, as well as view their child’s cafeteria purchases.

"With Healthy Vending, we are able to extend the lunch time to coordinate with student schedules and offer four to five different items for lunch," said Victor Donofrio, consulting manager at Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District in Fairfield, Calif. "We are now selling many more meals, using the same amount of labor as before. The principal is very happy with the machine and knows that every student will get a chance to eat. The food-service director is extremely happy, as we have increased our meals by five times at one site. The machine will pay for itself in 175 school days."

"The financial impact on a school, combined with the focus of feeding children who would not normally eat a nutritious meal because of shortened lunch periods, crowded cafeterias, or long lines, justifies the need for Healthy Vending," says Williamson.

Security is a concern, said Tatham, because some children might take another student’s swipe or ID card. To combat theft, Healthy Vending machines have security cameras built into them. Once a student purchases a meal, the camera takes a snapshot of the student’s face and attaches it to that purchase. If there is a problem with theft, school officials can go back to the transaction in question and see which student purchased the meal, Tatham said.

The cost of the machines varies by school. Horizon Software offers a trade-in program if a school has an existing vending machine and wants to trade it in for a Healthy Vending machine. The machines have been in use in one school district for about year, and the company has added "a fair number of clients," said Tatham.

The machines can help schools cut down on the number of cafeteria workers, said Tatham. One machine can take the place of one staff member, he asserted.

The machines also speed up lunch lines and offer 24-7 service, so students who have to take a makeup test during lunch or who might have other such commitments will still be able to purchase a meal during the day. Athletes who want to eat a quick snack before team practice can access the machines after normal school hours, Tatham added.

The machines are monitored for temperature, inventory, and connectivity. Depending on its configuration, one machine can serve approximately 80 meals, the company said.


School Nutrition Association healthy vending article

Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District

Corpus Christi Independent School District

Horizon Software

DeliZone by VendSMARTT

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