School Salad Bars Reduce Waste and Increase Healthy Eating!
By: Emily Gallivan
After 20 years of working as a Food Service Director Carrie Beegle knows her way around a school kitchen. She has dedicated her career to working in schools throughout Ohio and has spent the past seven years heading up the food program for Cloverleaf Local Schools, a small school district nestled in rural Lodi, about an hour southwest of Cleveland. Beegle strives to meet several distinct goals when feeding Lodi’s children: offering students better access to fresh fruits and vegetables, increasing participation within the lunch program, and giving students the opportunity to see the beautiful colors of fresh fruits and vegetables first-hand. Salad bars, Beegle knew, were a means by which she could accomplish these goals, but it was challenging to secure the right equipment until she found Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools.
District Enrollment: 2,800
Number of Schools: 3
Average Daily Participation: 75%
Free/Reduced Percentage: 32%
Before applying for the grant and receiving three brand new Cambro Versa Food Bars from the program, Beegle had been using old equipment that she and her staff manipulated into salad bars. All they were able to offer from these “bars” were pre-packaged salads that were made up of primarily lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers. She noticed many students were throwing away a majority of the salads and decided to hold a plate waste study to determine how much was actually being thrown away. The study found that students were throwing away 68% of their vegetables! After some further investigation and conversations with students she found that students were taking the pre-packaged salads just for the tomatoes or cucumbers and throwing away the remaining lettuce and other vegetables. This staggering amount of waste further drove Carrie to find better salad bars that would give her students the choice and variety they wanted.
Beegle received her bars in August 2015 and decided to stagger implementation of the equipment, beginning with the elementary school. It was important for her to reach the youngest students first as they were still developing their eating habits. Beegle and her team threw a big opening celebration at the school to get students excited about the salad bar. To encourage participation, they created and passed out salad bar punch cards to all the kids. Every time they chose items off the salad bar food service staff punched their cards. At the end of the week students were rewarded for their healthy choices with a sticker.
Once the elementary school implementation was deemed a success, Beegle turned her attention to the middle and high school, rolling out the equipment in those cafeterias and acclimating the older kids to the new additions. As students have become more aware of the salad bars, Beegle and her staff have incorporated more offerings beyond the fresh fruits and veggies, including quinoa and hummus, both of which were met with enthusiasm.
Just over one year after Beegle began her salad bar program, she has observed some big successes. “By letting the students make their own choices, we went from 68% to 6% waste” she happily reports! Not only does that mean less vegetables getting trashed, but also, and more importantly, it means the students at Cloverleaf Schools are eating more fresh fruits and vegetables every day.
This massive reduction in waste would not have been possible without the motivated food service staff and the guidance and leadership of Beegle herself. Prior to receiving the salad bars Beegle worked hard to determine the best methods for incorporating the equipment into her district. She researched other schools that already had salad bars and talked with them about the successes and challenges they faced. Beegle also worked internally and spoke with her staff to gain their insights and determine who would be in charge of the salad bars. Salad bars are not a project that can be dropped in front of staff without guidance and discussion, Beegle notes. “[We] work together, the whole kitchen works together, and that is important.” She organizes trainings at the beginning of every year to ensure that all her staff understand the different meal groups and regulations that go along with salad bars. She also sits down with her managers to determine who will be in charge of what, talking through potential problems that could come up and how to solve these problems. It is a collaborative process that makes her staff feel that they are an integral part of serving nutritious options to students.
Not only has the district experienced a reduction in plate waste, but Beegle also reports that 70-80% of her students now eat items off the salad bar. This has made the amount of fruits and vegetables they purchase skyrocket. Cloverleaf’s purchasing of fruits and veggies has gone up a whopping 300% since implementing the bars. Beegle believes this is money well spent, and has found creative ways to manage the additional cost. She uses her commodity items more effectively and builds her menu around the salad bars to stay on-track financially.
From the beginning Carrie knew that salad bars would help her accomplish her food service goals and allow her to offer a wider variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. And they continue to surpass her expectations. The salad bars played a key role in significantly reducing the amount of food waste in her lunchrooms and have been a crucial resource for her and her team to encourage healthy eating habits. Implementing the program took hard work and dedication, but Beegle believes it is well worth the effort. It has elevated the food service program and fostered a healthier environment for her students, and for that she is grateful. Learn how you can make apply for salad bars through Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools here.