Salad bars from sea to shining sea!


October 8, 2012 by amberpulaski

Why is it so easy to make less than ideal food choices? When you go to a restaurant, most of the items are high in calories. At the grocery store, over half of the products being sold are processed. If you stop at the gas station, you’ll probably find even more processed foods; candy, chips, and cakes. Whew! It’s hard to make good choices when you’re surrounded by and prompted to buy unhealthy foods all the time! Children often experience a similar environment at school. When a child goes to school, the healthy options are frequently out of reach, covered, not promoted, and not really that attractive. It sure would be helpful if environment supported healthy choices!

Creating a healthier food environment for kids
In order to make it easier for kids to make healthy choices at school, a few things need to happen. First, a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables need to be available on a daily basis. Second, healthy options need to be convenient and attractive.

Ensuring fresh fruits and vegetables are available
Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools is a program that provides salad bars to private and public schools in the US. In order to be eligible to apply for a salad bar grant, a school must demonstrate that it provides over 100 reimbursable meals per day and an intention to make the salad bar a reimbursable meal. To date, over 1,400 salad bars have been approved for schools across the nation! A picture of one of the 6-foot salad bars provided by the program is shown above. The salad bar makes a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables available to kids, which is half the battle.

The other half of the battle…
It’s just as important to encourage kids to actually eat the fruits and vegetables once the salad bar is installed! Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools doesn’t currently require grant applicants to demonstrate how the school will encourage kids to choose the salad bar option.

Small changes in the lunchroom can encourage kids to make healthier choices. Kids make food choices that are often based on environmental factors they don’t even realize are influencing their choice. Researchers at Cornell University found fruit and vegetable intake can be significantly increased in school cafeterias if the healthy option is made more attractive and convenient. A few examples of tactics that have worked in other lunchrooms to make healthy foods more attractive are labeling vegetables with fun names (e.g., “Super Strength Spinach”), colorful signs that promote healthy items, fruit displayed in pretty bowels. A few examples of tactics to make healthy options more convenient include placing salad bar by cash register or implementing strategies to make the salad bar line faster than the regular lunch line.

Modified salad bar application
Schools interested in applying for a salad bar should also be required to provide an outline of changes they will implement to make the salad bar more attractive and convenient. Materials (e.g., images for signs) and research-supported changes are available free of charge at Smarter Lunchroom Movement. Costs associated with adding this component are negligible. In fact, making these changes could save the lunch program money; because research has shown these techniques increase consumption of healthy foods (i.e., reimbursable salad bar meal), which will lead to higher total reimbursement from USDA.

(2012, October 8). Retrieved from Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools website:

(2012, October 8). Retrieved from Smarter Lunchrooms Movement website:

(2012, October 8). Retrieved from School Food Service Costs: Location Matters website:


2 thoughts on “Salad bars from sea to shining sea!

  1. jsohl says:

    I couldn’t agree more about how important it is to encourage children to eat fruits and vegetables. Getting the salad bars in school lunchrooms is the first step. Just as importantly, staff must be ready to make the salad bar an exciting option for the students. Kids could have access to more fresh fruits and vegetables than a nutrition student could dream up, but if they haven’t been taught to appreciate them, the abundance and variety won’t make any difference. The cool-factor goes a long way with kids, nothing ups the cool-factor like a good marketing strategy. A branding strategy of the salad bar itself and/or certain fruit and vegetables found in the salad bar would likely increase sales. Convenient placement of the salad bar also makes sense. The Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools program seems like a great initiative to get salads bars placed in schools, but I agree that schools should have to provide a plan for how they will promote the salad bar as part of the application. After all, if the salad bar isn’t used, it won’t help to improve the health of children.

    (1)Keller KL, Kuilema LG, Lee N, Yoon J, Mascaro B, Combes AL, Deutsch B, Sorte K, Halford JC.The impact of food branding on children’s eating behavior and obesity. Physiol Behav. 2012 Jun 6;106(3):379-86. Epub 2012 Mar 16.

  2. kevintmiller says:

    Having been a school employee myself, I think first and foremost about the logistics of salad bars in schools. Though our school cafeteria employees are good, caring people, their level of skills with food preparation are quite variable. Literacy skills are also quite variable. I thought of that when I saw this fantastic (but possibly overwhelming) resource on preparation of vegetables for schools:

    I don’t know how we could possibly ask people who are already working full time to feed our children to also take time out of their work schedule to read a resource they might struggle with mightily. I certainly agree that it would be best if we can offer and encourage fresh vegetables and salads in our schools. The way public school is now, however, our wonderful lunch ladies might need more training, more help, and certainly more compensation before we saddle them with salad bar fixin’ preparation that takes much more time than preparation methods for vegetables in schools currently. I’m a big fan of the “lunch lady.” If you are too, perhaps you also want to order a lunch lady action figure: (I couldn’t get an image to show up in this comment box)

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