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Batter up! Healthier foods on deck at parks this summer

Writer:

Linda Geist
Writer
University of Missouri Extension
Phone: 573-882-9185
Email: GeistLi@missouri.edu

Photo available for this release:

Health communicator Amy Dunaway of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, center, shows Dawn Johnson, left, and her daughter, Shakyra Sargent, right, how to use iPads to record their food preferences at a recent food-sampling event at Moberly's Howard Hils Athletic Complex.

Credit: Photo by Linda Geist

Published: Thursday, July 9, 2015

Story source:

Cindy DeBlauw, 573-882-2399

MOBERLY, Mo. – It’s summertime at the ballpark and swimming pool.

For ballplayers and fans, that can mean a steady diet of hot dogs, popcorn, nachos and soda.

Don’t foul out with a high-calorie, low-nutrition supper on the benches, says University of Missouri Extension nutrition specialist Cindy DeBlauw.

Through MU Extension’s Eat Smart in Parks program, DeBlauw works with parks and recreation staff statewide to provide healthy choices to people visiting parks this summer.

In Moberly, Rothwell Park and the Howard Hils Athletic Complex now offer a new menu at the ballpark and swimming pool. Concession stand staples such as hot dogs and chips remain, but park visitors can also select healthy options, says Reid Fieber, aquatics concession manager. Fieber says the new products were sampled on a limited basis last ball season. This year’s season kicked off with an expanded menu that include apples with low-fat caramel dip, water, apple juice, cheese sticks and frozen grapes.

Young people find the choices similar to options offered through the National School Lunch Program, DeBlauw says.

Parks and pools are perfect partners for promoting healthy eating, she says. Ballplayers, hikers, swimmers and others visiting parks and pools lead active lifestyles. They appreciate food choices that reinforce fitness and healthy living.

 “Missouri is blessed with one of the best state park systems in the country, as well as a wealth of municipal parks,” DeBlauw says. “Unfortunately, Missouri also has the distinction of being named one of the top 10 most obese states in the country.”

DeBlauw said MU Extension specialists work with parks staff across the state, discussing nutrition, price points, portion sizes and ways to support local farmers and grocers. They also teach food safety and how to control inventory of perishable items to avoid waste and maintain profit margins.

MU School of Human Environmental Sciences faculty and staff offer food samples at parks and pools to promote Eat Smart in Parks. Using iPads on portable stands, health communicators from the Missouri School of Journalism’s Health Communication Research Center survey people tasting food samples.

The surveys grade taste, texture, interest and cost considerations. This information helps concessionaires decide what products are hits and which ones foul out.

The program provides educational resources, menu boards and product banners that highlight the healthy items. Missouri State Parks, the Missouri Parks and Recreation Association and the Missouri Council for Activity and Nutrition are partners on the statewide program.

It began in 2011 through a Missouri Foundation for Health grant. Other agencies also support the effort.

“It’s little, tiny steps,” DeBlauw says. “We don’t ask people to entirely quit eating hot dogs at summer ballgames. But it’s good for them to have variety and options.”

DeBlauw says it is unknown how many parks and recreation centers use the program or a modified version of it, but the number is growing.

Fountain Bluff Sports Complex in Liberty introduced the program last year after park users asked for lighter alternatives, said Kyle Crews, recreation supervisor of sports and athletics. The Liberty parks group works with local Hy-Vee stores to provide snack packs of pretzels, crackers, grapes, cheese cubes, sliced meat, or peanut butter and celery. Yogurt parfaits and fruit cups are other popular choices.

Crews says sales of traditional concessions haven’t decreased and healthy eaters have joined their customer base. It’s a double play that has sellers and buyers cheering.

For more information about the program, go to http://extension.missouri.edu/mocan/eatsmartinparks.