Monday, March 18, 2013

Trend Toward Healthy Concessions at Local Parks Visible in Delicious and Nutritious Choices at Republic and Nixa

Contact: Dr. Pam Duitsman, nutrition and health education specialist
Tel: (417) 881-8909

There is growing interest statewide in ways parks and other places of recreation can offer fresh, flavorful and healthy foods to visitors.

Area parks are already gearing up for busy summer seasons which includes ordering foods for sale in concession stands. A typical park concession menu includes things like soda, candy, pizza, potato chips, popcorn, nachos, hot dogs and some fried foods.

But a 2012 survey of visitors to Missouri Parks found visitors are willing to pay more for healthy food options, like fruit, if they were available for sale in park concessions.

That has people like Jared Keeling, director of Parks and Recreation in the City of Republic, interested in testing healthier concessions.

“This past year we have introduced several healthier concession items. Baked chips, Powerade Zero and Coke Zero have all been fairly well received,” said Keeling. “We recently started testing protein drinks in our vending machines and we’ll see how they sell over the next 60 to 90 days. It is encouraging to note the number one bottled beverage we sell throughout our parks system is Dasani water.”

Joy Siemer, recreational specialist for Nixa Parks, says changes to the concession menus in the Nixa park system is a regular consideration.

“The tried and true items on our concessions menu like candy bars and soda will always remain, but people like to see new things. We are taking an in-depth look at our offerings right now,” said Siemer.


University of Missouri Extension held a “Healthy Concessions Workshop” at the Southwest Region Missouri Park and Recreation Association meeting held in Republic during January.

The workshop presented “Eat Smart in Parks,” a statewide effort funded by Missouri Foundation for Health, aimed at promoting healthier eating options in Missouri’s local and state parks.

Cindy DeBlauw, a registered dietitian with MU Extension, shared resources with participants aimed at helping park staff offer tastier, healthy food choices. A toolkit with hands-on resources was given to each participant.

“The program offered guidelines for serving healthier options, training for parks staff to assist them with using the guidelines, and materials to promote healthier items,” said DeBlauw. “While focusing on better nutrition for Missouri citizens, the program also considers revenues from food items, and offered recommendations for signage, display and pricing of items.”

It is interesting to note that there are some examples of parks turning a sizable profit when they completely replaced all of the least healthy menu items with healthier items according to Pam Duitsman, a nutrition and health specialist with MU Extension in Greene County

“While the model is intended for any park in Missouri, we know that each park is unique. The training helps implement healthier food policies, and offers resources and practical, simple methods to do so,” said Duitsman. “Honestly, parks are losing revenue from folks who want to eat healthy foods.”


The city of Republic boasts of an outstanding parks system that includes a zero-entry aquatics center, community center, five parks, lots of options for youth athletics and special seasonal events like a father-daughter dance in February and the Tiger-Triathlon in the summer.

The community center, aquatics center and the combined baseball and softball complex all have concession stands and the parks department also supplies vending machines in the system.

As a result of the training about healthy concessions, Keeling says parks staff in Republic are going to review all concession offerings in advance of busy summer months.

“As a direct result of the training, we are at a minimum going to add several new items to our menus including frozen grapes, string cheese and possibly a fruit of the week,” said Keeling.

According to Keeling, the initial testing and order volume of these type concession offerings becomes a little tricky.

“You don’t want to be stuck with a lot of inventory that could potentially expire before it has been sold if it happens not to go over well. We rely on concession revenue as part of our budget and like to be as frugal as possible when it comes to expenditures,” said Keeling.


Residents of the City of Nixa enjoy access to a large community center, an aquatics center and three city parks, including a baseball and softball complex.

“Healthy concessions trainings like the one offered by Extension in February provide us with ideas on ways to make changes to the concessions menu and to also offer healthy food choices to the people who visit our facilities, pools, sporting events and special events,” said Siemer.

There are several challenges to providing health concessions according to Siemer. For example, it is difficult at times to find healthy options that are available with food distributors.

“In many cases food distributors do not carry items or they are priced too high. In other instances the shelf life of the product significantly goes down if it is a fresh item,” said Siemer. “It also takes time to redirect the paradigm that all foods at a concession stand will be unhealthy. It takes time for the healthier food choices to be well known.”

Staff in the Nixa Parks system had some experience last year with trying healthier food items on concession menus. Siemer says several new items were added to the Nixa Parks menu and coined as “On the Lite Side.” Some of the items added – like frozen grapes, frozen Go-Gurt and low-fat cheese sticks -- were very well received.

“Based on what we learned from last year we will be working on tweaking a few things for this spring. We are always watching for new, fun and healthy things to add to our menus,” said Siemer. “We hope over the next few years to have our menu balanced with an equal ratio of healthy options to those that satisfy the sweet tooth.”


There is a trend of obesity in Missouri that needs to be changed. A 2010 study found over 30 percent of adults in Missourians are obese, ranking Missouri as the 10th highest in the United States. There is a lot of interest in changing that trend by addressing foods we eat.

To get information and resources about this statewide program and educational effort visit

For more information on nutrition, go online to or contact one of the nutrition and health specialists working in the Ozarks: Dr. Lydia Kaume in Barton County, (417) 682-3579; Dr. Pam Duitsman, in Greene County, (417) 881-8909; or Cammie Younger in Texas County, (417) 967-4545

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