Parks update // Healthful foods policy raises concerns at Park Board

A proposed policy for requiring healthful foods in Minneapolis parks has raised eyebrows among some Park and Recreation Board members who say the policy overreaches. 

The proposed healthful foods policy would require all food served in city parks meet a long list of requirements. The rules do not apply to third-party vendors such as Tin Fish, Sea Salt Eatery and mobile food trucks that sell in parks. 

Some of the most concerning components to Park Board members include requiring all bread, rolls and pretzels to be whole wheat; juice servings limited to 8 ounces; brownies constrained to 2 inches by 2 inches; and the banning of cheese sauce for pretzels and nachos.

It would also require all meat served to be lean, so fatty hamburgers to hot dogs wouldn’t be allowed. Soda would also be banned, but that couldn’t happen until the Park Board’ vending machine contract with Coca-Cola expires. 

“These are the kinds of things where I say, ‘I’m not going to move to a city like that because apparently it’s a no-fun city,’” said Commissioner Jon Olson, who represents North Minneapolis. “Can’t we have choices anymore? Do we have to dictate everything?”

Olson passed out post-it notes to fellow Park Board commissioners at a May 16 meeting to demonstrate the size limitations of bars, brownies and cake. 

Park Board staff — who wrote the policy at the request of commissioners — said childhood obesity in the U.S. has tripled in the past 30 years, with 35 percent of kids now classified as overweight or obese. The Park Board feeds 86,000 kids a year as part of its recreation programs and events.  

“This is just another component of providing a good healthy environment for our kids,” said Sara Ackmann, the Park Board’s recreation program and facility manager. 

The Park Board’s Administrative and Finance Committee on May 16 decided to send the policy back to staff to address some of the Board’s concerns.

“Can’t we find a happy medium?” Olson said. “I know we’re supposed to be government, and we’re supposed to just promote healthiness, but it’s OK for people to be a little bad every once in a while and have a treat.”

Park Board President John Erwin said he supports some of the policy, such as requiring lean meat. But he said some of the other parts, like banning cheese sauce and requiring whole wheat pizza crust, needs to be re-worked. 

“I think the intent is great. We should be offering healthy food,” Erwin said. 

Commissioner Liz Wielinski said that because the Park Board hosts kids for many meals, it’s important to set a good example. 

“I think that our job as youth workers is to present a better choice for kids,” she said. “We’re going to have to demonstrate to these kids what correct portion sizes are and what good choices are.”

Beach season begins in Minneapolis

The Park Board opened public beaches on May 18, when temperatures hit 90 degrees in Minneapolis. 

The city’s 12 beaches are open daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Lifeguards will begin duty on June 9. Most beaches are staffed with lifeguards during the summer, but not all of them. Check minneapolisparks.org for a list of beaches and their lifeguard staffing. 

The city began installing swimming docks at several beaches last summer. This summer, beach-goers can find swim docks at Lake Calhoun’s Thomas Beach, Lake Harriet North, Lake Nokomis 50th, Theodore Wirth and Cedar Point. 

The Park Board plans to open its 65 pools and two water parks in early June. 

Reach Nick Halter at 

[email protected]