It’s game day, and that rumble in your stomach sends you toward the concession stand. The smell of hot dogs, hamburgers and freshly popped popcorn wafts toward you.
But the new digital menus offer a surprise. Grilled chicken wraps, fruit, and veggies with hummus might not be your traditional game grub. But thanks to grant funding and student research efforts, those healthy options are now available.
Andrea Cullers, an assistant kinesiology professor, says the idea came from her work as a member of the Joplin Area Food Action Network.
“We received a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to implement the Eat Smart in Parks program, which was put together by the University of Missouri Extension,” says Cullers. “The program is about how you can get healthier food at concession stands in state and city parks.”
Developed in 2011, the state extension program has put together nutrition guidelines to help educate and train staff members at Missouri parks on offering menu choices that contain healthy alternatives to the standard fare. Cullers says she saw the potential for expanding the program to the university.
She approached the Athletics Department to inquire if Southern’s concession stands would be open to participating. After getting the go-ahead, a group of students in her research methods class, members of the Kinesiology Club and others decided to survey fans at a football game and the downtown Third Thursday event last fall.
“We took green Southern bags and filled them with a variety of healthy snacks,” says Cullers. “We approached people to ask how much they spent at concession stands and asked if they’d be willing to buy healthier items if they were available.”
Seth Sockwell, a junior health promotion and wellness major, was among the students taking part in the effort.
“We talked to people sitting in the stands and also waited by the concession area to have people take a quick survey,” he says. “Overall, we had a really good response … especially from parents and older students. They definitely wanted to see healthier options than burgers or hot dogs.”
With the survey data in hand, Cullers says grant funding was used to purchase several digital menus that can be used at games to advertise the concessions menu – including new, low-calorie and healthy snack options. The new items became available during basketball games this spring.
“People are asking about them and ordering them,” she says. “We’re seeing a positive response from people.
“We applied for and received a grant through the Missouri Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to help continue the project. We’ve also worked with Joplin’s Parks & Recreation Department to incorporate healthier items into their concessions, and Carl Junction has as well. This spring and summer, we hope to work with Webb City.”