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A pilot program places healthy vending machines in Denver schools

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A few hours after lunch, students across America start to get cranky. Their blood sugar plunges, their eyes glaze over, and their stomachs start to rumble. They find a quick fix in the school's vending machines by gorging themselves on greasy potato chips and sugary sodas. Energy levels skyrocket before inevitably plummeting again.

Revolution Foods is attempting to stop this unhealthy cycle by introducing new, nutritious vending machines in Colorado schools -- even before the legislature considers any new law that would dictate them.

The co-founders of Revolution Foods, Kristen Richmond and Kirsten Tobey, started their business with "a vision of increasing access to healthy foods for kids," says Tobey. In approximately 600 school cafeterias around the country, they have done just that, serving meals free of high fructose corn syrup and trans-fats, and instead starring fresh fruits and vegetables. They quickly got "tons of great feedback," Tobey says, including reports of higher test scores, fewer disciplinary problems on playgrounds, and more student focus in the classrooms after lunch. Emotional ups and downs from sugar rushes had often made the students antsy or exhausted after lunch, she explains, but Revolution Foods meals helped students maintain a steady level of energy throughout the school day.

Still, while the cafeteria meals were much better for students, there was another problem. "We kept having principals come up to us feeling good about the food we were serving, but worrying about the unhealthy vending machines," Tobey recalls. "So we decided to tackle that issue head on by starting a pilot program in Denver."

Late last year, they started replacing the traditional junk food-packed vending machines with ones filled with colorfully packaged, unprocessed, more natural snacks: all-natural animal crackers, granola clusters, squeezable fruit, organic fruit ropes and crunchy, freeze-dried fruit. The machines were a big hit, especially with students. "One student told me the vending machine looked like one from college," she says. "If a kid says it looks like it's from college, you know it's cool."

The response was so good that Revolution Foods expanded its investment in the project; it hopes to have fifty machines up and running this month. By making healthy food affordable and accessible, Revolution Foods hopes to transform students' ideas of smart snacking.

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