Food service guidelines offer a set of standards so that healthier choices are available. SPAN is working with Arkansas state parks and all food pantries and the food banks that serve them in addition to training early childhood educators on how to promote healthier eating with their kids and families.
Arkansas State Parks
Arkansas has 52 state parks with 8 million visitors each year. Hikers, bikers, walkers, outdoor enthusiasts obviously have interest in a healthy lifestyle, so why shouldn’t the food options mirror that?
SPAN and its partners have targeted nine state parks clustered around the Delta and northwest Arkansas to help offer healthier food options than the standard sweetened drinks and candy bars. Leesa Freasier, SPAN physical activity coordinator who works with the Paths to Healthy Parks, says the short-term goal for each park’s healthy options is 33 percent for food and 50 percent in beverages. That means fewer sweets and fats replaced with more water, nuts and whole-grain bars and crackers. Lake Charles State Park showed a mixed bag of healthy and non-healthy offerings in the initial survey.
“Lake Charles (State Park) had seven percent healthy drinks, 10 percent healthy food, but they also had Crick-Ettes to eat, so some might consider that healthy,“ said Freasier with a laugh.
The team not only evaluates what the parks stock on their shelves, they help the parks ensure bids from food service companies include healthy options. Meals at state park dining areas have adjusted to healthier ingredients, and menu items are flagged as a nutritious selection. Policies have been adjusted, and the group has taken a cue from the tobacco industry in how they encourage marketing the healthy fare.
“It’s called behavioral economics,” Freasier says. “Let’s put all the healthy options at eye level. And people shy away from the word ‘healthy.’ Advertise ‘refreshing,’ ‘delicious’ and ‘flavorful.’ ”
SPAN has expanded the reach of the Paths to Healthy Parks by joining with the Missouri state parks to create the yearly Healthy State Park Award. The national award is based on three criteria: nutrition, physical activity for all capabilities and workplace health for employees. The winning park will be announced this fall at the National Association of Park Directors.
Strides with Food Pantries
The Community Health and Research Division at UAMS Northwest put into action color-coded order forms through the Arkansas State Food Purchasing Program, working with Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance and SPAN. The percentage of healthy food purchased for food pantries increased 13% in one year.