High school basketball fan Ken Lien loves to get a hot dog from the concession stand when he arrives at a game. During halftime, he heads back to buy some peanut M&Ms for the second half.
So he was surprised when he showed up at the Richfield High School boys' varsity game on Tuesday and found his concession stand favorites replaced with more nutritious options like low-fat organic chicken burritos, trail mix and real fruit smoothies.
Though he was generally supportive of the temporary change, the selections "caught us off guard," Lien said, opting to buy some popcorn and drink a soda from home.
The new menu was part of a larger effort coordinated by do.town to help citizens of Richfield, Edina and Bloomington to make healthier choices, said Katherine Bass, do.town project manager. The project is a collaboration between Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota and the three cities.
"We want to make sure that even at the concession stand, the healthy choice is the easy choice. People are busy, and for many people, this is dinner," Bass said.
Bass worked with a dietitian to identify foods that are higher in fiber and lean protein, with less sugar. As alternatives to the pizza, hot dogs and candy that are usually sold, the items had to be "tasty and competitive in terms of price point. Also, the concession stand needs to break even," she said.
She also worked with the basketball booster program that runs the stand to make sure they were on board.
"This was a joint effort," Bass said. "A big part of this project was bringing residents into the conversation."
Few leaving empty-handed
Do.town helped coordinate similar efforts at two other high school basketball games earlier this winter, though their menu offerings weren't as extensive, Bass said.
Laurie Palmer, a Richfield High boys' basketball boosters member, runs the concession stand at the boys' games. She noted that typically the stand's top sellers are hot dogs, walking tacos, chips, pop and candy.
"So it's a huge change for us," Palmer said.
She said fans' reactions to the changes were mostly positive. The most popular items of the night were chicken burritos, popcorn, turkey sandwiches, fruit smoothies and Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches. The Goldfish crackers and hummus and vegetables were less successful.
"One thing I notice is when they come here with their money, they're shocked at what we're offering. But they're hungry and they want to spend the money. Not many walk away empty-handed," she said. "So if you would force healthier choices on them, they would eat it."
Though a direct comparison to the ordinary menu was difficult because of varying costs and a different number of products, by night's end the boosters reported that the concession stand's revenue seemed comparable to an average boys' varsity basketball night.
Palmer noted that though the stand isn't planning to make the night's menu changes permanent, she'd like to see some of the healthier items added to the regular offerings.
Some liked the new foods
Channa Jones, whose husband is the assistant coach of the Richfield High basketball team, said she's a fan of the new foods. Her 3-year-old son, Jeremiah, ate applesauce and a turkey sandwich on wheat bread -- both items she serves at home -- from the stand.
"He ate all of it, so that was impressive," Jones said. "I actually liked that they didn't have candy so he couldn't ask for it."
But not everyone was thrilled with the changes.
Todd Westby of Woodbury, whose son was playing on the opposing Hill-Murray School team, thought the burrito was a bit bland.
"If I want a soda, I'd like to have a soda," he said. "And I don't like being told what I have to eat, what's healthy and what's not."
Bass said the goal of do.town is simply to make it easier to eat healthfully and live an active lifestyle through small changes. Other recent events have included a broomball tournament in Bloomington and a chance to buy discounted fruits, vegetables and meats at the Richfield Community Center.
"Changes don't happen overnight. We're giving people the opportunity to try something," she said.
Erin Adler is a Twin Cities freelance writer.