The Facts About Salad Bars
How to win over naysayers and show them it can be done
By: Beth Collins
These days, it’s a lot harder to argue against using a salad bar in a school program than it once was. The USDA has backed salad bars as one of the most efficient ways schools can meet the vegetable sub group requirements, and their endorsement has opened the doors for widespread acceptance of the equipment in school cafeterias. School districts all across America are committed to salad bar use as a part of their reimbursable meal.
But there are still naysayers. If someone at your school district is hesitating to implement salad bars because of one of the below concerns, here’s how you can respond, and hopefully bring them around to the idea.
- Kids Are Too Short – Elementary students can’t serve themselves
This common concern often results in food service staff pre-measuring or “cupping” the appropriate amount of fruits and vegetables, instead of allowing the kids to freely choose from the salad bars. Tiny Kindergarteners may need some assistance, that’s true. Are the First Graders slow? Sure, but let’s face it, if they have the finger dexterity to know their way around your iphone or ipad, they can use tongs to serve themselves a carrot. Focusing on choice at the elementary level will impact eating for the rest of children’s lives. To those naysayers who protest because they’re short on service time, I say we must make the time to teach our kids about food. Engaging elementary students in identifying and tasting new foods is critical. And it will help our meal counts into the future – after all today’s Kindergartner is going to be your customer for 12 years! The salad bar is a perfect venue.
- Contamination – Kids will spit, sneeze or stick dirty fingers into the salad bar
The modern salad bar has a sneeze guard for a reason – to protect all of us from the sudden sneeze. The child-sized equipment with sneeze guards does a fine job of keeping little heads out of the bars. Salad bar training, a pattern of what food is next to what (to minimize spilling) and serving utensils can all be optimized to prevent contamination. I recommend changing out the utensils often. Lunch is max 2.5 hours, more often ‒ under 2 hours in many schools. That’s a small and very attainable window for keeping the salad bar tidy with fresh pans and utensils. And the better we are about teaching kids to use mindful etiquette, the less issues their will be. Talk and train — salad bars are an opportunity to engage.
- No Space – Our POS is at the end of the hot line, we can’t move it to the dining room, and there’s no room for it before the hot line
I have been in hundreds of dining rooms of all shapes and sizes – if there’s a will, there’s a way. It might not be perfect, but you can make it happen, especially if you can get your principal on board to participate in changes. For instance, alter how the tables are set up in the cafeteria, and boom! Instant space. Don’t let “That’s the way it’s always been” be your enemy.
- Too Expensive – The equipment is costly and so are fresh fruits and vegetables
First of all, schools can apply for salad bars from Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools, which has been donating new, state-of-the-art equipment all over the country for years, so that takes care of that concern. On to the fruits and vegetables: they’re actually not as costly as you might think if you are tracking your ingredient production and procurement. As part of the reimbursable meal, a selection from the salad bar averages at or less than the cost of a hot vegetable with a fruit cup side. Track your data. Kids don’t take everything – some kids take the minimum, some kids come back for seconds—it averages itself out. Is it a little more work to procure real produce than buy canned green beans and apple sauce? Yes. It’s something your staff can learn through following Standard Operating Procedures and using resources like The Lunch Box. Is it worth it? You bet.
- Past Failures – They tried that once here and it didn’t work
This happens—When I go to school cafeterias to assess meal programs, I sometimes see an old salad bar tucked away in a corner. I ask about it – it might be used for condiments or taco day, but not as a daily salad bar. Why? The response is often “it was too much work and the kids didn’t eat it”. It may be difficult trying something that was perceived as not successful in the past, but any challenge that you may have experienced can be overcome. Apply for a salad bar grant, review the salad bar section on The Lunch Box, and talk to directors who are using salad bars successfully. Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools partners, Chef Ann Foundation (CAF), the United Fresh Start Foundation, or Whole Kids Foundation, can direct you to one (or one hundred)!
When schools commit to implementing salad bars, it can be game changing for children’s health. When it comes to fruits and vegetables, giving kids variety and choice drastically increases the chance of them eating the healthy options. Simply put, salad bars transform meals for our children, and I hope this blog gives you the confidence to set concerns aside and start using them.