It was like a mosh pit for munchies.
A throng of Southern Middle School students surged to the small stand set up in the hall in search of strawberry smoothies, string cheese, grapes and bananas.
Organizers had expected a dip in sales when Southern Middle's snack bar, the Yum Yum Shop, switched from high-calorie, low-nutrition treats such as candy bars and sodas to healthier options, including smoothies, and veggies and dip.
Instead, the opposite happened. Sales skyrocketed, said Anita Courtney, chairwoman of the area Tweens Nutrition and Fitness Coalition.
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Sales easily reached four times what they had been when candy was king.
"It just shows that if you make it available, kids will eat it," said Courtney, whose coalition also helped get healthier options in public pool concession stands.
Sales ran between $55 and $60 a day during the first week. The shop's proceeds support school clubs and activities.
Southern Middle already was doing a lot of things to promote good health, physical education teacher Lisa Hager said. There is a wellness committee, and students are offered water for lunch and are encouraged to walk.
Hager said she and fellow physical education teacher Angela Stark thought transforming the snack bar would be a good next step. It was typically stocked, Stark said, "with whatever you can find in the sugar aisle at Sam's."
The wellness committee got behind the plan, so Hager and Stark connected with Courtney's nutrition coalition, and the work began.
Students taste-tested healthy options, email blasts informed parents of the change, and posters went up all over the school.
Not all of the kids were enthusiastic, Stark said.
"There were kids who were like, 'No, don't change the Yum Yum Shop; don't do it,'" she said.
An experiment last fall didn't turn out well. Organizers offered candy and the healthy snacks, and kids went for what was familiar.
But some of the naysayers were the first to fall in line when only healthy snacks were being sold.
When the new menu was unveiled last week, the momentum seemed to grow daily. By Wednesday, the parent volunteers already anticipated the orders of a few regulars. In the 10 minutes between 3:55 p.m., when classes are dismissed, and 4:05 p.m., when buses pull out, the rush was on, with the whirring of the smoothie-making blender barely rising above the after-school din.
Within five minutes, all of the smoothies — strawberry and chocolate-banana — were sold out, so most students picked something else from the healthy menu.
Stark encouraged them all to come back the next day, when the store would be fully restocked.
Hager said there some parents have been eager to help with the after-school store.
Mirana Mendez, who has two daughters at the school, served smoothies and string cheese with a smile.
She said she knows how important healthy habits are to growing middle school students. She's volunteering to help set an example, just as she does at home. She said that if she sits down to eat carrots and dip, her children will join her.
"If I sit down and eat chocolate, they will eat chocolate," she said.
Hager said she hopes that more parents will volunteer. She ultimately would like the operation to be handled completely by volunteers.
One of the great things about the shop, she said, is that other schools could the idea put in place, with some help from Courtney's coalition.
"Once the community got involved, things just took off," she said.
Doing it yourself
Want to try a shop at your school?
Here are some steps to consider:
1. Contact Jocelyn Cowen of the Tweens Nutrition and Fitness Coalition by email at email@example.com for technical assistance, graphics, sourcing and other help.
2. Convene a meeting of your school's wellness committee or booster club to discuss.
3. Do some taste tests to get student input on what snacks they would like to buy.
4. Select a place to put the shop in your school. Contact Southern Middle School to schedule a visit and see its design.
5. Work out the details, including menu, procurement, storage details and volunteers.
6. Start the marketing campaign with posters, morning announcements at the school, and e-mail messages to parents and PTA promotion.
7. Launch, monitor and make adjustments as needed.