The Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department is all about people being physically active and having a healthy lifestyle.
Requiring contractors who operate concession stands at city ballfields and recreation centers to offer healthy food options certainly fits with that mission, but implementing such a program may require some special considerations for the city.
Recreation officials announced last month that they were crafting a policy that would require at least half of the food offered at city-owned concession stands to qualify as “healthy,” meaning it would meet limits for calories, as well as fat and sugar content.
The city would require its contracting concessions operators to offer at least one fresh fruit or vegetable and healthy beverages, such as water, fat-free milk or 100 percent fruit or vegetable juices. And the “healthy” foods would have to be priced at or below the prices for comparable concessions that don’t meet the health guidelines.
Not all patrons will welcome this change, but some will appreciate having options. City officials say they envision a concessions menu that would include turkey wraps, grilled chicken sandwiches and other healthy offerings along with the cheeseburgers and candy that currently dominate the menu.
The only problem is that healthy food doesn’t necessarily pencil out from a business standpoint. Hy-Vee, the city’s current concessions contractor, reportedly tried three years ago to offer salads, fruit and other items, but they didn’t sell well, which presumably resulted in considerable waste of perishable food. If the city wants to require its concessions operator to offer such foods — at prices comparable to other offerings — it may need to provide a financial incentive or subsidy. Even so, the city may find that many businesses choose not to pursue the contract to operate the city-owned stands.
It will take some time to change the way people eat at concession stands, but it’s a cinch people aren’t going to make a healthy choice if there are none available. It also may take some time for concession-stand operators to figure out what healthy choices are most popular and easiest to keep in stock.
Even if the city has to offer some financial subsidies at the beginning of this process, it’s a change worth trying. It makes no sense for the city to offer activities to promote a healthy lifestyle and then undermine that philosophy by offering no healthy options at its own concession stands.