Kids can’t resist candy? Stores try junk food-free ‘healthy checkout lanes’

(TODAY)–No matter how many sugary treats you dodge at the grocery store, there’s always one last place where you must face the candy: the checkout lane.

Take a child along and it can become a battle ground. If adults have problems resisting all the easy-to-reach junk food, kids find it unbearably tempting.

Now, some stores are experimenting with “healthy” or “family friendly” checkout lanes that display more nutritious fare rather than the usual chocolate bars, snack cakes and chips.

“I would really love a ‘family friendly’ supermarket line. That candy is so distracting,” Lyla Gleason, who lives in New York and writes the Globetrotting Mommy blog, told TODAY Parents.

When her 6-year-old daughter asks for treats near the register, Gleason sometimes tries to divert her attention to something else. If they’re visiting a big supermarket, she usually ends up getting her M&Ms from a life-size display right in front of the checkout lines.

That’s a dilemma “healthy” checkout lanes want to end. Target began trying out the concept in October at 30 stores, placing nutrition bars near registers and moving junk food elsewhere, Fortune reported.

Raley’s, a supermarket chain with 114 locations in California and Nevada, now has one family friendly checkout lane in each of its stores. The project began in 2010 to help parents avoid “mini-meltdowns” with kids.

“We’re learning quickly that our customers want more of this,” said company spokeswoman Chelsea Minor. “(We recognize) the challenges for moms and dads who are going through those check stands and their children are quickly distracted by treats.”

Signs help customers spot the family friendly lanes, which are free of candy, soda and chips. Items like Odwalla bars, trail mixes, dried fruit are displayed instead. It’s not as lucrative as selling chocolate and cookies, but Raley’s believes it’s the right thing to do, Minor said.

There have been similar efforts at various grocery stores and supermarkets in Utah, West Virginia, Texas and the Midwest.

Still, change is slow to come.

About 90 percent of food at the checkout is unhealthy, the Center for Science in the Public Interest found in a 2014 report. It’s unacceptable for companies to push extra calories on customers this way, the group said.

But the strategy clearly works: Stores have placed treats near registers for decades and people expect them to be there, said Madelyn Fernstrom, TODAY health and nutrition editor.

Not only is it an impulse buy, but many shoppers come to think of the treats as a “reward,” she added, calling it a very big issue from a calorie control and nutrition standpoint. Better fare in that spot could help change eating behavior.

“It’s an easy and effective way to limit junk food for the whole family,” Fernstrom noted.

“Studies show that what you see is what you eat, so healthier choices on the shelf could make a difference.”

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