Although hot dogs, nachos and candy bars are favorite concessions at sporting events, these foods can be high in fat and calories.

As a partnership between USD 373 and the Harvey County Health Department, healthier concession choices are being introduced at local sporting events. Representatives say so far, the experiment is going well.

"We wanted to demonstrate that there is a market for healthier items in concessions and ultimately create a policy that requires at least a healthier option at every event offering concessions," said Lisa Bartel, Health and Wellness coordinator for the Harvey County Health Department.

"Healthy concession options give people more variety when they want something to eat," said Lisa Moore, Newton High School assistant principal. "Obviously, healthy options are lower in fat and calories than typical concession food."

The program has been made possibly by a grant from the Kansas Health Foundation. The Health Department had been trying to think of a way to promote access to healthier food in public venues and contacted USD 373 to see if they would be willing to try the experiment with concessions. The grant is rare in that the funding can be used to actually purchase food, Bartel said, although she added it is important the selected items would be sustainable going forward without the grant.

So far, healthier options have been offered at a gymnastics meet, a Saturday volleyball invitational and some of the soccer and varsity football games. Selections have included bean burritos; replacing white buns with whole wheat buns; offering nacho chips with salsa instead of cheese sauce; and bananas and apples. They also have dark chocolate chunk KIND bars as an alternative to a candy bar for future events and will be trying a chicken wrap.

The best response to the project has been the bean/cheese burritos.

"At the first event, parents were very appreciative that there was a meal option (the burritos) besides a hot dog," Bartel said. "Once the first parent bought a burrito and took it into Ravenscroft, other adults came to the concession stand looking for the burritos."

However, when they tried offering bananas and apples at a recent NHS volleyball tournament, the response did not go well, Moore said.

An upcoming healthy selection is chicken chili for the Oct. 20 junior varsity football game and the Oct. 24 varsity game. They will be brainstorming food ideas for basketball games and other winter sports events.

"Large groups of the adult population attending sporting events are not buying concessions," Bartel said. "In school districts that regularly offer healthier items, market share increases because many adults are not visiting traditional concession stands because of product selection. Once healthier items are offered consistently, the potential customer base expands: adults that want healthier choices have options and adults and kids who are hungry will still buy something."

The program also is serving as an educational opportunity for students. Moore and Bartel have been working with Melinda Jeffery, a Newton High School teacher, and the NHS Culinary Essentials classes.

"This has been a good learning project for these classes, as they have made the tortillas from scratch and have also assembled the bean/cheese burritos," Moore said.

The Kansas Health Foundation is a private philanthropy dedicated to improving the health of all Kansans. For more information about the Kansas Health Foundation, visit www.kansashealth.org.