“The pressure to serve more fruits and vegetables comes from the USDA and from our customers, too. Making our salad bars more exciting to the children in every grade level helped greatly increase the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. The total poundage of fresh produce used in the 2010- 2011 school year was 1,512,624. The next school year, the total poundage was 2,036,839. That’s a 26 percent increase of total fresh produce.
“In the summer of 2011, we decided to meet with the farmers who supply our produce. We told our distributors, ‘Bring us your farmers; we want to talk directly to them.’ We rearranged our menu to align with what is fresh and plentiful and affordable at any given time.
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“We initially ruled out the idea of salad bars, due to concerns with food temperature, sanitation and portion control. We would need to find a better way if we wanted salad bars.
“Nutrition Services has a training team, and everyone brainstormed while working in schools the first month of school last year. A revamped salad bar concept proved successful. Teachers in elementary schools were given materials to explain the salad bar to their class, and coupons also helped boost participation.
“On the secondary school level, we got more creative. 'Salad Toppers' is a salad bar option that comes prepackaged in three versions: Southwest Topper (multicolored tortillas, black beans and corn medley); Apples and More (diced apples, crackers and raisins) and Veggie Blend (diced carrots, grape tomatoes, snap peas and croutons).
“The students pick their base salad that contains chicken and shredded cheese or just cheese for vegetarians, then proceeds to choose one salad topper of their choice. This way, everything is contained in a safe and sanitary manner for consumption by the customer. This, combined with new pre-packaged and pre-portioned fruits and vegetables in all the schools is what led to more than 500,000 pounds more than the previous year.”
—Lora Gilbert (left), MS, RD, FADA, SNS, Sr. Director Food and Nutrition Services and Kern Halls (right), area Manager, orange County Public Schools.
“Improvements have made the salad bar the busiest spot in the Moffitt Café and it’s been a great boost to our sales.
“We have expanded the number of items on the bar to include more options, like edamame, sunflower seeds, plus bleu cheese and feta crumbles. Pre-packaged servings of protein addons are also working well: Italian grilled chicken breast, sliced hard boiled eggs and grilled tofu. There’s an extra charge for these three options.
“The best change that we’ve made— causing the salad bar to really take off— was switching from weighing every plate at the cash register to a flat-rate system. In the old days, people would fill up a plate (often with heavier things like tomatoes), and get sticker shock at the register. Sometimes they would just walk off without paying, and that means wasted product and dissatisfied customers. The solution was sales based on volume rather than weight. Now we have two sizes of compostable containers and the customer can fill them any way they want.
“Recent surveys and focus groups show that people love not having to weigh their food and being able to get a healthy, affordable lunch.”
—Jack Henderson, associate director, nutrition and Food services, UCSF Medical center, San Francisco
“A year ago, we reduced the salad bar price from $6.99/lb. to $4.99/lb. and we’ve seen pounds of salad sold each month jump from 4,261 lbs. on average to 4,523 lbs.
“We offer three special salads (such as Avocado Grilled Chicken Salad) on a two- week cycle rotation, and a lot of customers look forward to visiting the salad bar for that.”
—April Hilliard, principal Food service Manager, dining commons and café Med, department of nutrition, UCLA Medical center, Los Angeles.