by Marion Nestle
Oct 5 2011

Vending machines in schools? Get them out!

I was fascinated by the story in yesterday’s New York Times about the problem schools are having as they try to replace the junk foods in vending machines with healthier options.

Students, it seems, prefer to buy the junk foods.

The Times photo says it all:

What are these machines doing in schools at all?

Schools didn’t used to have vending machines.  Somehow kids managed to survive for a few hours not eating between meals.

If schools must have vending machines—a highly debatable point—how about making everything in them be something you’d like your kid to be eating?

Just a thought.



  • I totally agree with you. I’m for completely removing them.

    In fact, (nothing to do with school), I wish they would take them from the work place too.

    I’m sure the vending companies have worked hard behind the scenes to get their foot in the door too.

  • Yes, they should be removed but our public schools must also work to provide tasty alternatives. My high school had vending machines and I skipped tator tots for cookies and Sprite almost daily.

  • Anthro

    These vending machines started appearing about the same time that my kids’ high school embraced “open campus”–mid to late 80’s. When I complained about both, I was told that the parents had requested these policies! Funny, nobody called me to ask my view.

    There is now a whole generation of young people (some nearing middle age), who have grown up with the idea that there must be a “snack” available for each and every idle moment. They are passing this behavior on to their own children. My grandchildren have “sippy-cups” in their hands almost the entire day. It’s a constant litany of, “Mommy, milk”, “Mommy, juice”! No wonder my daughter-in-law feels exhausted by the time my son gets home! Now that she’s gone back to work, they eat out almost every night as well.

    Unless we change this attitude at the pre-school level, I think the battle is a very uphill effort.

  • I believe the school makes money from these vending machines so basically we are feeding kids junk food in order to help educate them. Doesn’t anyone think about this stuff? But I think they could also make money from healthier foods, no? At my kids’ school the machines are locked up during the day and only available for after school activities, but that’s just so they don’t compete with the cafeteria — which also offers junk foods.

  • Michael Epstein

    I was in elementary school in the sixties and ice cream vending machines were there.
    Taking them out is fine by e, but having watched the Jaime Oliver shows about what’s in the school lunches themselves makes me wonder if the machines should be looked at before the actual meals are. Take tater tots for example.

  • Kim

    I totally agree. There is no need to have vending machines in school. I know our schools have them, but only allow access after school hours (for sports or other after school activities). I wish they weren’t there or only had healthy options.


  • Ben Boom

    With school budgets cut everywhere the schools have been forced into deals with the Devil because they get desperately needed revenue from the machines. (Well, it’s from the companies that provide the machines, but you get the point.) Without a stable (and adequate) source of school funding we are all stuck with these crappy robots and our children are stuck with their crappy school diet habits…and more and more obesity and diabetes.

  • Healthier alternatives in vending machines will never be able to compete side by side with the junk, but research has shown that if that’s all there is on offer, the kids will spend just as much (to feed school coffers) and adjust fairly quickly to no junk available.

  • Cathy Richards

    I’m stunned the US still has these types of products in their schools. In BC most of our schools have 100% “healthier” vending — no sugary non-nutritive drinks, no caffeine beverages, lower sodium/sugar snacks, smaller portions, etc. Revenue is generally the same, sometimes a little lower. Some schools have lost a lot of revenue but those are the ones that implemented the changes poorly.

    We have provincial guidelines that schools must follow. I thought the states had that as well? If not, what are they waiting for??? It’s do-able, and not doing it is actively violating the international rights of children to be protected from harm and to have an open future.

  • It doesn’t make sense that schools are trying to provide healthier lunches, yet have these vending machines full of junk. Some schools monitor the vending machines and only turn them on during certain time periods, but you are right- they shouldn’t even be there at all.

  • Margeretrc

    I agree–ditch the vending machines. All they do is cause interruption (and disruption) of class and provide the kids with an endless supply of processed junk food. There is no such thing as a healthy snack that can come out of a vending machine–except nuts. Fruit, cheese, veggies, and meats–all healthy snacks–don’t keep well or dispense well out of a vending machine. Ditch ’em. We never had between meal snacks when I was a kid in school and we survived just fine, even though we were very active. But meals were not low fat, carb loaded tickets to hungry an hour later, either.

  • D

    best part of the pic is that the clock reads 11:40, so apparently whatever the kid in the yankees cap chooses is gonna be his lunch.

  • MYoung

    Nixing vending machines is just the beginning of what should be a complete overhaul of the school food system.

    I feel so proud of my kids when they brag at school that they can cook entire meals of real-from-scratch food. We are newish to a small community and it suprised me to find that a lot of the kids (including the young men) can cook all sorts of foods.

    Then I found out that they don’t eat lunch at school (no vending machines btw) because it is (their words) ‘nasty’. I asked them to bring lunch to school, they said that it was embarassing at their age. “So you starve until you get home?” “Yep.” ????????????

    So my take is that it is disgusting to eat school cafeteria food, and not cool to bring good home cooked leftovers or whatever as lunch.

    We have twisted our children’s belief systems so drastically in the last 20years that it will take waaaay more than just getting rid of the vending machines or just the change of what is offered to alter this way of food use/abuse!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • I’ve read that many schools have long-term contracts for these vending machines; good luck getting rid of them.

  • Andrew

    This is all about the money schools (and workplaces) can’t turn down. I remember Coca-Cola landing the vending contract for my school district in the late ’90s. The company bought us new scoreboards for the gyms and outdoor fields, brought in new fancy-looking vending machines, installed new seats in the high school gym, and plastered tacky advertisements all over the place—mostly interracial study groups poring over math texts while drinking plastic bottles of Coke. (Believe it or not, the majority of us still drank cans back in those days.) The school board and dining service people raved about how much Coke had done for our schools.

    These days at work, the story’s the same. The vending company pays for the annual company picnic and returns about two hundred thousand dollars every year to the “Quality of Work Life” team. I’m surprised that anyone chooses to eat out of the vending machines (or even buy coffee from them). You can bring a lunch (or ‘hot beverage’) from home for cents on the dollar. Then there’s the Whopper Wagon, which comes once a month or so and is staffed by employees. Every time it shows up, HR feels the need to bludgeon us with e-mails: “If you want the Whopper Wagon to come back, you NEED to buy a meal . . . We’ll deliver but you NEED to get your order in by 11 . . . Employees NEED to be careful when crossing the street to pick up their Whoppers; we had someone trip and fall last time.” And so it goes.

  • Is it a funding issue? Like, if we adequately fund schools, they can focus on education, not squeezing $’s out of their captive consumers (students)?

  • Anthro

    I keep hearing that schools need the vending machine money to make up funding shortfalls, and yet I sometimes wonder where the money goes. I’ve schools get increasingly “dolled up” with carpeting, LED signs to tell you when school starts, lots of sports-related stuff, new books every year (we used the same ones for years–how much can spelling change each year?), much larger office staff, and so on. Achievement continues to decline in many places. Go figure.
    Thanks, Cathy Richards for sharing the different attitude in Canada–a civilized country!

  • Liv

    In Austria we had apples, oranges, and sandwiches in the vending machines of the middle school. Of course, they had to fill those daily.

    In VT we had all the junk foods, but in the drinks vending machine of our science building they offered milk and chocolate milk from a local farm in addition to the sugary soda stuff. Interestingly, the chocolate milk and milk seemed to sell better.

  • This is a no-no, I can’t even imagine what’s next. Do they still care about their students’ health?

  • Rachel H

    I’ve just graduated college and have the pleasure of seeing vending machines on both fronts. Placing vending machines in front of the youth is like placing candy in front of a baby. Of course we are going to buy them, even at the “i know everything” stage, the decision making ability is hindered by a cheap tasty salty/sugary treat. I do consulting for several technical recruiting Agencies and one of the employers supplies these machines to schools. It is surprising how well these machines are doing, and since the school benefits from them as well as the students blind love for them; my guess is they are here to stay.

  • Devin Gahley

    umm yes i dont agree seriously i want to have sodas and good food my schools food is gross and i dont eat breakfast or lunch seiously i want them back i dont have them any more.