New nutrition standards support Three Rivers Parks visitors' health and wellness
Three Rivers Park District is one of Minnesota’s largest park systems, serving suburban Hennepin, Carver, Dakota, Scott and Ramsey counties. It has 25 parks and 17 regional trails, covering about 27,000 acres with an estimated 11 million annual visits. Until recently there were no nutritional standards for the foods and beverages sold at the parks.
Recognizing the demand and need for healthier food and beverage options, community partnerships were developed to make improvements.
New "Better for You" nutrition standards were established in March 2015 by Three Rivers with support from Hennepin County Public Health, the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP) grantee for the county. The new standards make it easier to find those healthy food and drink options in the parks.
"This awareness of the role food and beverages sold in our parks plays in overall wellness really goes well with our belief that we can help our visitors lead healthier lifestyles," said Lynn Stoltzmann, Director of Facility Services for Three Rivers Park District. "It seems like a small thing, but having these foods available can contribute to our visitors' overall health."
While developing the new standards, representatives from the park district and Hennepin County Public Health looked at the National Recreation and Park Association's "Commit to Health, Healthy Eating and Physical Activity" standards, and included components of HealthPartners' "YumPower" and the USDA's "Smart Snacks in Schools."
Vendor contract is a small change that makes a deep impact
The new standards require 50 percent of the concessions, snacks, meals and vending food offered for sale at Three Rivers to have limits on calories, sodium, fat and sugar. It requires fruit and non-fried vegetable options and whole grain-rich products be available. The requirements are applied to the entire package or portion sold (not the single serving size that’s usually noted on most product nutrition labels).
We serve a lot of people, including school-age children, and it's important to have these healthier food choices available. - Lynn Stoltzmann
Now, 50 percent of beverages available must also meet nutrition standards. Parks can choose from options including tap or bottled water without sweeteners; unsweetened tea and coffee; beverages that have less than 40 percent calories per eight fluid ounces (less than 60 calories for 12 ounces); juice that is 100 percent fruit or vegetable based (with no added sweeteners); or milk (skim, 1 percent and flavored nonfat milks are acceptable).
Early in 2016, Three Rivers’ vendor contract opened for bids and the new standards were integrated. In April a vendor was selected who could meet these new standards.
"We promote healthy lifestyles – fresh air, exercise, outdoor recreation and physical activity," Stoltzmann said. "We serve a lot of people, including school-age children, and it's important to have these healthier food choices available."