Getting Salad Bars into Schools

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October 8, 2012 by catherinecoughlin

Currently, K-12 schools and school food authorities (SFA) supported by the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program are reimbursed for providing school meals that meet USDA nutritional standards (1). These schools are eligible to apply for a grant for a salad bar through the “Let’s Move! Salad Bars 2 Schools” program. Using the Salad Bars 2 Schools grant framework is one way schools can expand their access to salad bars (and streamline the administrative and fundraising process as guidelines are already in place). The “Let’s Move!” program awards grants for a salad bar and determines eligibility based on the number of reimbursable meals a school provides (a minimum of 100 meals per location), the potential for impact based on the district’s free/reduced percentage, the number of Healthier US School Challenge awarded schools, and level of preparation to implement based on application answers (4). The Salad Bars 2 Schools program donates the physical 6-foot, insulated salad bar, as well as being featured on the program’s public website. The website enables stakeholders such as school families and the PTA, local citizens and corporations, or anonymous philanthropists to donate towards a particular school to support a salad bar. In this way, the grant provides schools with a source of income to support the success of the salad bar and expedites the shipment of the salad bar to the school. To secure the grant and shipment of the salad bar, marketing and promotion of the new healthy initiative should occur prior to its inception, as well as throughout the school year to continue its popularity and hype. Successful implementation is important to maintain the school’s grant and encourage continued funding from outside sources.
While the grant award does take into consideration the number of free and reduced meals a location provides, there are no budgetary requirements for schools interested in applying for a salad bar. Public and private schools may apply, but fundraising by the school (such as soliciting donations from local stakeholders, as mentioned above) expedites the process. Salad bars are not delivered until the school has raised enough money to fully fund the salad bar and the Initiative alone is currently struggling to meet the financial demands of the program. The Let’s Move! Salad Bars 2 Schools website is a great place for a school to start, as schools can use the fundraising page set up by the program to secure funding and ensure a sustainable, low-cost salad bar.

Providing a salad bar is an important goal because it helps schools meet the USDA guidelines for fruit and vegetables, which include 1) Offer fruits and vegetables as two separate meal components; 2) Offer fruit daily at breakfast and lunch; 3) Offer vegetables daily at lunch, including vegetables from specific subgroups (3). Offering a salad bar in the school cafeteria and successfully implementing a salad bar that increases consumption of fruits and vegetables among school-aged children are two different goals. In order to expand salad bars in schools there must be a measurable approach with specific goals, such as increasing the number of school aged children that consume fruits and vegetables by 10% from baseline. One way to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables is to simply use a little creativity in naming dishes. According to a study funded by the USDA, using simple techniques such as naming vegetables, for example referring to broccoli florets as “crunchy broccoli bites” or cherry tomatoes as “tomato poppers,” can make them more appealing and appetizing to elementary school students. In this USDA study, this approach increased the percentage of individuals choosing vegetables by more than 20% (2). This is a simple and inexpensive way to increase children’s vegetable consumption and exceeds the goal of increasing the number of students who consume fresh F&V by at least 10%.

The Let’s Move! Salad Bars 2 Schools program requires that salad bar grant recipients provide two evaluations over the two years following salad bar implementation. However, it is suggested in The Lunch Box Guide that schools monitor the salad bar daily to determine what fruit and vegetables are popular. By supplying popular options, schools can cut down on waste to control costs. Schools should also follow seasonal guidelines when selecting produce options as another way to control the costs of a salad bar. To ensure schools are maximizing the potential impact of the salad bar on fruit and vegetable consumption while controlling costs, I would suggest that schools evaluate the performance of the salad bar every quarter of the school year, or every eight weeks, using the daily reports.

1. Ollinger, Michael, Katherine Ralston, Joanne Guthrie. “School Foodservice Costs: Location Matters,” Economic Research Report, Number 117, May 2011.
2. Wanswick, Brian. “What Is in a Name? Giving Descriptive Names to Vegetables Increases Lunchroom Sales,” Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, Volume 43, Issue 4, August 2011.
3. “Nutrition Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs,” Department of Agriculture Federal Register, Vol. 77, No. 17, Thursday, January 26, 2012.
4. Let’s Move Salad Bars 2 Schools Website.
5. The Lunch Box: Healthy Tools to Help all Schools,


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