Access to fresh fruits and vegetables is growing nationwide among school-age children, thanks in part to the rising number of salad bars in school cafeterias. A recent study of the Let's Move Salad Bars to Schools (LMSB2S) campaign found that salad bars increased students' access to fresh fruits and vegetables, increased student participation in the school lunch program, reduced plate waste and are complemented by other health promotion activities in school.
The aim of LMSB2S is to increase children's fruit and vegetable consumption by donating salad bars to schools across the country in support of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! Initiative. More than 3,400 salad bars have been donated to 1,097 school districts across the country since the initiative launched in 2010.
"School salad bars are gaining momentum from coast-to-coast," says Ann Cooper, founder of the Food Family Farming Foundation. "It's gratifying to see kids, teachers and parents getting excited about fresh fruits and vegetables."
Salad bars are also one of the easiest ways for schools to comply with new federal nutrition standards for school lunch, which require that students be offered fruits and vegetables daily and that students select at least a one half cup serving of vegetable or fruit with their meal.
In the spring of 2013, LMSB2S partnered with the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition, an independent research institution, to complete a post-implementation survey of school districts that received salad bars from LMSB2S. Three hundred fifty-seven school districts in 46 states responded to the survey.
"Salad bars empower kids to try new fruits and vegetables and make their own healthy choices," says Diane Harris, PhD, MPH, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Giving kids a variety of options and the opportunity to choose means that they will eat what they take. And, that means less waste, more efficiency in food service operations and kids getting the nutrition they need. Salad bars make the healthy choice the easy choice for kids."
Among the key study findings and outcomes are...
• Salad bars are benefitting low income students, 51% of the students eligible for federal free and reduced-price school meals.
• Most schools (57%) saw increased student participation in school lunch programs with the addition of salad bars.
• A majority of schools (78%) reported purchasing more fruits and vegetables as a result of salad bar implementation.
• School administrators, teachers, staff and parents are supportive of school salad bars.
• Schools complemented salad bars with other health promotion activities, including classroom education (87%), taste testing (75%), special days or events (70%) focused on healthy food choices, food service promotion (68%), and cooking classes (53%).
• School salad bars are an effective way for schools to implement new federal school lunch nutrition standards.
"The Let's Move Salad Bars to Schools program is transforming school cafeterias," says Cooper. "Schools are eager to offer salad bars brimming with fresh fruits and vegetables in their lunch programs, and with the tireless support and generosity of our donors, we're working hard to meet demand."
"We received our first salad bar in January and participation and engagement is so high, five more schools will have salad bars by the end of the year," notes Sunny Young, project coordinator of Good Food for Oxford (MS) Schools. "Our program includes nutrition education inside the classroom and outside in school gardens."
Let's Move Salad Bars to Schools' founding partners, Food Family Farming Foundation, National Fruit and Vegetable Alliance, United Fresh Foundation and Whole Foods Market, have raised more than $8.4 million for LMSB2S to cover the cost of salad bar equipment and delivery.
In addition, a new website, saladbars2schools.org, was launched to provide school foodservice directors and parents resources for integrating a salad bar into their overall lunch menu. The site tracks grant applications—fulfilled and in-progress—by state, while a blog and bi-monthly e-newsletter showcase real success stories from cafeterias across the country.
The public can also visit the website to make an online donation. All contributions support fulfilling requests for salad bars.
At this time, there are 555 schools on the waiting list for a salad bar.