Keeping Salad Bars Fun and Fresh with Color and Creativity
Creating bright and attractive school salad bars supports both staff engagement and student participation! Let’s head over to the Humboldt Unified School District (HUSD) in Prescott Valley, Arizona to chat with Lake Valley Elementary School Kitchen Manager Robyn Miller and District Director of Food and Nutrition Jody Buckle to learn how they keep their salad bars fun, attractive, and fresh for students and staff.
HUSD is a Pre K-12 district with five Elementary Schools, two Middle Schools, and one High School with a total enrollment of 5321 students and a free and reduced rate of 50% (pre-COVID).
How long have you both been working in school food?
Robyn: I’ve been working for 5 years in school food and I was so excited to start working at HUSD because Jody said that I could order lots of fruits and vegetables! I came from the catering world prior to school food, and cutting vegetables is just fun for me! I’ve learned from experience that if you make food look cute people will want to eat it.
Jody: I’ve always been in the food industry and spent my whole career serving people, and 4 years ago I came to the district from working with Sodexo at Chicago University.
Can you tell us a bit about your salad bar program?
Jody: We’ve had salad bars in all schools since 2014, and when I first got here I really looked at how the Humboldt schools truly put their garden bars on a pedestal. Promotion of the bars has always been, and will continue to be important to us. Robyn has really just taken the salad bars to another level, and now the other managers are trying to keep up. It’s ignited some friendly competition with other school managers to get creative with their salad bars and share it on social media. We even kept the bars open during COVID at the staff’s request. We had to pre-portion items at the time, but now we are back to bulk un-wrapped; the staff are so happy because it saves so much time.
What is your favorite go-to tool for preparing fruits and veggies for the salad bar?
Robyn: It’s nothing fancy, and I get A LOT of questions about this on social media. Just a simple crinkle cutter tool makes things look really fun, and you can get them for about $8 on Amazon.
Check out Robyn’s favorite crinkle cutting tool on Amazon HERE
What are some of the students favorite items on the salad bar?
Robyn: The radish roses that I make always go first! I don’t have any professional training in food art, I just like to practice at home and have fun with it. The kids also really like the tri-colored cauliflower, strawberries, grapes, multi-colored carrots, and jicama! They didn’t know what jicama was at first, but after some exposure on the salad bar kids started taking it and loving these raw jicama sticks that I cut with the crinkle cutter. When setting up the salad bar color is a BIG thing, and I’ve always got a color scheme in mind to make it look beautiful.
What are some favorite recipes that work well on the salad bar?
Robyn: Chickpea salad, broccoli salad, macaroni salad, and spaghetti noodle salad all go really well. We also did chocolate hummus that was a big hit, and now kids eat it with raw carrot and jicama sticks.
Check out a couple of HUSD’s favorite salad bar recipes below:
How do you educate students about the salad bar?
Jody: It’s important to teach the students in the first two weeks and then the rest of the year is just gravy. We first educate the teachers, and then the teachers help talk to students in the line about portions and taking what you touch. We also have a “Clean Plate Club” where we hand out stickers to students for not having any plate waste, and it’s really helped to minimize waste. We have a district nutritionist, Pam Liuzzo who helps me design the menus; she spends time in the classrooms doing nutrition education throughout the year and helps us to offer lunchroom taste tests to help kids get familiar with new items.
What advice would you give to new salad bar grantees?
Jody: Variety is key, and your staff need to enjoy what they are putting out there. While we also have to be cognizant of produce prices, maximizing DoD fresh dollars really helps us save on produce costs, and we are completely financially stable. DoD also helps us offer local Arizona produce such as apples, watermelon, and cantaloupe and the freshness has been great!
Robyn: Salad bars are fun for me, and it’s fun to see the kids get excited. It’s great to see the older kids teaching the younger kids about the salad bar. I really just get joy out of feeding people. If it’s not fun, don’t do it! Plus Jodi is amazing to work for, and we all love the kids.
Follow the Humboldt Unified Schools Child Nutrition program on social media to keep up with Robyn and the rest of Jody’s fabulous team’s spectacular salad bar spreads!
Facebook: HUSD Child Nutrition