Celebrating Diversity with Salad Bars in Fairfax County Public Schools
In the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) in Virginia, a culinary revolution is underway, and at the forefront is Shaun Sawko, the district’s dynamic new Food Service Director alongside the amazing FCPS food service team. With a wealth of experience drawn from his time working in school food service in the Montgomery Public Schools in Alabama, DC Public Schools, and Hillsborough County Public Schools in Florida, Shaun brings a fresh perspective to the table.
“I love what I do because it’s not just about treating diseases; it’s about prevention. School food is the nation’s largest prevention initiative, offering an incredible opportunity to impact students and prevent chronic diseases for decades.” -Sawko
Join us as we delve into the details of the unique approach the FCPS food service team is taking towards salad bars and celebrating diversity. Get ready for a taste of innovation that goes beyond the lunch tray!
For the first time starting this year, salad bars are now available at all 198 schools in the district, with thanks to the Salad Bars to Schools Program and Whole Kids for funding 105 of those salad bars over the last six years.
In an effort to elevate the salad bar experience, FCPS is pioneering some unique approaches. The introduction of themed salad bars adds a creative twist, featuring a variety of vegetable slaws and alternative bases for salad mixes. Emphasizing inclusivity and education, the district is broadening its protein offerings. Legumes such as lentils and chickpeas are now featured daily on the school salad bars.
“We’re trying to educate students around the importance and variety of legumes, but this also supports inclusivity. They meet Halal criteria. They meet kosher criteria. They meet vegan criteria. So now our students who do practice any of those dietary preferences or cultural preferences can all participate in the salad bar and get a full reimbursable meal.” -Sawko
The commitment to equity is further exemplified in the district’s alternative centers, where students with learning, emotional, or behavioral disabilities attend smaller high schools. Through the use of tabletop salad bars students at alternative centers now have the opportunity to build their own salads, just like their peers.
Student inclusivity is again demonstrated in the district’s marketing tactics. Sawko is introducing eye-catching signage, such as “Build Your Tray Your Way” and “Build Your Salad Your Own Way,” providing guidance on creating reimbursable meals. Taking it a step further, a menu card showcases recipes, food groups, and symbols denoting vegan, vegetarian, kosher, and Halal options.
Sawko also envisions a future with daily hot vegetarian entrees and a focus on plant-based options.
“Plant-based options are just the most inclusive when it comes to school meals.” -Sawko
FCPS is breaking new ground through impactful initiatives like the Student Food Show and rigorous recipe testing. The Student Food Show serves as a dynamic space for exploring diverse culinary traditions. During this event, which was held for the first time last month, students actively engaged with a wide array of global cuisines, fostering a deeper connection to their own cultural backgrounds and were provided with opportunities to submit feedback to the foodservice team through an online Google Forms survey.
“The most impactful moment I had during that food show was a student that said, “Oh my God, this is Korean. I’m Korean. This is me!” And I just stopped right there. And I was like, that’s the whole reason why we want to do this.” -Sawko
Hear from the students themselves by checking out this short video of the FCPS Student Food Show: Future of FCPS Student Food Show
Thank you to Shaun Sawko and the entire FCPS food service team for their hard work and dedication to healthy and diverse school salad bars and school meals!
You can follow the FCPS Food Service team’s salad bars and adventures in school food on Instagram: instagram.com/fcps_foodandnutritionservices/