Salad Bar Success in Lee’s Summit, Missouri
We recently caught up with Lori Danella, Food Service Director (FSD) for Lee’s Summit School District in Missouri. Lori applied for the Salad Bars to Schools grant in 2019 and was one of the last recipients of salad bars before the program paused due to the COVID outbreak and school closures in early 2020. Lee’s Summit was awarded 8 salad bars for three high schools, three middle schools and two elementary schools in the district. Here Lori shares her successes, challenges, and insights about operating salad bars while in the midst of a global pandemic.
Lee’s Summit is a small city within the Kansas City district with 24 schools including 18 Elementary, 3 Middle, and 3 High Schools. The district is both rural and urban with a free and reduced rate of 21%. Lori Danella was promoted to FSD of Lee’s Summit in early 2019 after 13 years as Assistant Director for the district. Prior to that Lori worked as a nutrition/kitchen manager for the Kansas Public Schools in Kansas City, Kansas for 10 years. Last year Lori was awarded the 2021 Missouri School Nutrition Association’s Director of the year award, and with her 26 years combined experience Lori is full steam ahead, prioritizing the health and futures of the students of Lee’s Summit.
How did you prepare staff for salad bars?
“I trained all staff on food safety, knife skills, and proper salad bar use; I also created HACCP sheets, SOPs, production records, and recipes in NutriKids POS.”
Did your staff need additional support to operate the salad bars?
“That’s a tough question because we are 30 members short on staff currently, but even if I was fully staffed we wouldn’t need any additional labor.”
Lori finds that by consolidating all fruits and veggies on the salad bar without the added work of pre-portioning, she ends up saving time on labor overall in her kitchens.
“What we have done to save on time while being short staffed is to use commodity dollars for pre-cut fruits and vegetables from DoD Fresh. DoD Fresh has been GREAT. My staff actually find that it’s a lot more fun prepping the salad bar (than pre-portioning fruits and veggies for the line). They have fun doing fruit and veggie art such as carrot palm trees or radish roses. They always send me pictures of what they are proud of, and they take pride in their work because it’s fun!”
How did you prepare your students for their first day using the salad bars?
“First we made signage for the salad bars about what the students have to take with each meal, and then we trained them. Each year we educate students on salad bar etiquette, how to use the utensils, and portion size. We also have a buddy system for younger students going through the lunch line where older students will help show their buddy about how things work at lunch and how to use the salad bar.”
For elementary schools, Lori attaches the salad bar utensils to the bar using removable sticky hooks and these fun colored springs she purchases from Amazon that you can find HERE.
“I was at the School Nutrition Industry Conference earlier this year and during several networking sessions, there were some discussions about salad bars, students self-serving, and districts not allowing the nutrition departments to open their bars back up. I told everyone my health department was 101% behind us going back to the salad bars and allowing the students to self-serve themselves, and that the CDC reports stated that COVID-19 is not transmitted through surface contact. We have always been vigilant in changing utensils and keeping the students safe; this is no different. COVID-19 isn’t going to stop us from offering a large variety of fresh fruits and veggies daily and our students and parents are so happy!”
Farm to School
Does your district participate in any Farm to School activities that support the salad bars?
“We work with KC Food Hub which keeps things fresh and local, and then I don’t need to worry about shortages as much.”
KC Food Hub consists of twenty-two small and medium-sized, family and non-profit farms that are improving the economic viability of sustainable local agriculture by coordinating year-round production, supporting emerging growers, aggregating the distribution of product, and by bringing farmers and buyers together in a community that benefits all.
“They keep us supplied with hydroponic lettuce throughout the winter, and next we are working on year round tomatoes too. We have school gardens, herb gardens, and indoor Tower Gardens. Everything that is grown is offered on the salad bar, and the kids get the most excited when they are a part of growing the food they see on the salad bar.”
How are the salad bars marketed and promoted?
“We use our nutrition Facebook page along with the district facebook, publications, twitter and instagram to promote our salad bars. The input has been AWESOME. Check them out here: https://www.facebook.com/lsrnutrition. Managers always send me pictures of things they were proud of that week, and that tends to create some healthy competition between staff and kitchens with “whose creations are the best”.”
Lori always sends these pictures to school principals and the superintendent to keep them in the loop and highlight the great work her team is doing.
What are some of your students’ favorite items on the salad bar?
“They LOVE colored peppers and also broccoli, celery, cucumbers, jicama, sweet potato sticks, garbanzo beans, and anything they grew themselves in the school gardens. When they know they grew something, that’s all they talk about. Also, when something is in season again, like peaches, their faces just light up, and they especially love the local radishes! Each cafeteria makes “school-specific” items such as a “Tiger Sauce” (ketchup and hot sauce) at Lee’s Summit High School in honor of the school’s mascot. We also do homemade pasta salad and croutons.” Lori shares her crouton recipe here: Croutonrecipe (1)
How do you get student feedback and buy-in for new menu items?
Lori hosts an Elementary Nutrition Council made up of students once a month. Lori and an elementary school manager bring healthy snacks and have lessons, games, and surveys around healthy eating. Members of the nutrition council participate in taste tests for new menu items and help provide feedback.
“Council members are then responsible for talking to the student body about changes such as the salad bar. When we first started the salad bars we talked to them about seasonal availability for items and surveyed them about what they wanted to see offered. We also do nutrition education lessons such as the cycle of growing a tomato through becoming a bottle of ketchup. Then we even made our own ketchup! I think it’s important to TEACH them, not just SERVE them. When we have something new we also will hand out small samples in the lunch line, and then a staff member will walk around the cafeteria and get feedback.“
Do you have any advice for new salad bar recipients?
“Sit down with staff, do some training but you really need to get BUY IN. Share pictures of what other schools are doing, and assure them that this is not just additional labor. Give examples of districts where the participation has increased, and how salad bars can help with plate waste. This year our plate waste has dropped significantly from 40% down 15% due to salad bars! Also, enthusiasm is a big thing; the director needs to be excited, but the BIGGEST thing is the excitement of the kids. All of the salad bars we received in 2020 from our grant are being used to their full potential! At the beginning of this school year, we started back with all students in session and I was able to put our self-serve salad bars back into fresh fruit and veggie service! Staff couldn’t wait to have them back. Our participation has gone up in the last 2 months of school and our reimbursement claim for April and May were the largest our department has seen which was much needed in our secondary schools. Thank you, again, for helping out our school district.”