Salad bars in schools — UCLA researchers

Here’s a photo I took of a little bitty article in the April 2010 issue of Cooking Light. I’m not sure if you can read it so I’ll summarize: UCLA researchers found that fruit and veggie consumption rose roughly 25% after salad bars were placed in three schools (small sample size, but encouraging nonetheless). They suggest that “poor eating habits at school may in part be the fault of poor selection, not resistance to fresh food.”

I’d like to read more about this exact study, but I couldn’t find any other information online. I’d love to see more research on salad bars in schools with more schools than three participating. Also the article also doesn’t specify elementary or high school, which is important!

I think the people behind A Salad Bar in Every School would love to read about this research. I want my school to get a salad bar!

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25 thoughts on “Salad bars in schools — UCLA researchers

  1. The school district that I attended when growing up offered a salad bar in every grade, from kindergarten on up. Many of the local districts do here, including some preschools. While the majority of students still elected to buy the main school lunch, the line for the salad bar was always long. In fact, it was often too long to be able to wait it out if you were not among the first in line.

  2. It does specify elementary school, which I find very important. If kids learn healthier eating habits when they are younger, those habits tend to stick with them throughout their lives.

  3. My kids would be THRILLED with a salad/fruit bar! They are voracious fruit and veggie eaters and the pitiful selection/quantity of fruits and veggies they get with their lunches at school sends them running off the bus for their snack. I've often thought of bringing it up at PTO meetings that perhaps the fundraising committee I head up in the school could pay for a salad bar, but I'm not sure how much that would cost. Or if the district would even let me. I guess it would take more research…

  4. It looks like an older article, from the journal of Public Health Nutrition in 2007. You can find the fulltext by searching "salad bar public health nutrition" on PubMed.

  5. The article says elementary school. That's pretty cool! I bet it would be even better in a High School.

    And ditto the opinion on what constitutes a salad bar. I hope they leave off the jello salads and puddings that you see in restaurants.

  6. Actually, the article says in the first sentence that the salad bars were placed in three elementary schools.

  7. My senior year I moved to a new school in GA that had 2 bars, a full (omg amazing) salad bar and a baked potato bar (with fesh toppings). Most students never went in the line for hot lunch, unless they were getting the potato…or pizza..which was gross.

    I ate at both of those bars as often as possible.

  8. When I was in HS the students initiated the addition of a salad bar for lunch. It was great. Just basic salad veggies, plus the option of a half peanut butter sandwich and small cup of applesauce. It cost a little more that the hot lunch but was totally worth it. There were often teachers in the line with us. Sadly, when I returned as a teacher 10 years latter the salad bar was gone.

  9. Here is a similar study looking at fruit and vegetable consumption via salad bar.

    Salad bars and fruit and vegetable consumption in elementary schools: a plate waste study.

    Adams MA, Pelletier RL, Zive MM, Sallis JF.

    Presence of a salad bar was not associated with greater fruit and vegetable consumption. Fruit and vegetable consumption was positively related to the number of fruit and vegetable items offered at salad bars (P < .05), adjusting for sex and grade. Fruit and vegetable variety was associated with elementary school-age children's fruit and vegetable consumption when using salad bars.

  10. I think it goes to the idea that if you constantly present children with good healthy food, eventually they will select it. I say put the good food in front of them, get rid of the crap, and no kid will choose to starve himself or herself.

  11. I have very much enjoyed your blog this year. My children (4 kids, ages 14-7) and I read it together and discuss their school lunches and compare your lunches to theirs. I found the salad bar post interesting because at a previous school they offered a salad bar and my kids LOVED it! My oldest daughter (13) ate salad almost every day and even my 14 year old son says he ate it at least 3 times a week. My kids have bounced school a few times in the last few years due to moves and each school lunch program was different. One school they attended had the same exact lunch program that you are enduring and even they agree with you on almost every aspect. Thank you very much for opening a conversation with my children about their lunches. I've learned a lot about my kids through your blog. I look forward to keeping up with you in the summer and reading again in the fall. Have a wonderful and fun summer with your family and Happy Eating 🙂 Stephanie

  12. If the salad bar was anything like the salads offered at my sons' school, I would say why bother. Pathetic "iceberg blend", a cherry tomato, some sort of neon shredded cheese and a pile of processed ham-like cubes. With ranch dressing. Blech. I'm not expecting arugula or anything, but can we at least move on to romaine? My boys like salads, but not from school.

  13. we had a salad bar from middle school to high school (this is roughly ten years ago, small rural area) and we were required to get a milk and a roll, then everything else could come off the salad bar. The salad bar was iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, croutons, crackers, cheese, bacon bits, ham cubes, and sunflower seeds, and ranch. I think easily half the school went through the salad bar line, rather than eat what the school had to offer.
    Sometimes everybody went through the hot line, like on nachos or mashed potatoes and gravy days. But the salad bar was well used.

  14. I went to high school in VA in the early 80's, and we had a decent salad bar every day. Iceberg, yes, but with a decent selection of fresh veggies to add to the salad.

    I have been a teacher since the early 90s, in districts in 3 states, and have only seen a salad bar offered in one. It was at an elementary school in Colorado and was included as part of every lunch purchased. Most kids made some sort of salad from it every day. It was so good that most of the teachers bought a salad a few times a week. I now work at a middle school in VA, and we have nothing like a salad bar.

  15. Thanks so much to everyone who commented!

    That's how tired I am that I didn't see it said "elementary." Oh jeez, I look dumb. Now that I know the little article is based on a study from 2007, I think it's strange that this little blurb popped up in the April issue of Cooking Light!? Weird, right?

    @Vicki – I know what you mean about "bad" salad bars. But actually that would even be an improvement over nothing at my school

    @Anonymous – thanks for posting the link to the other study. Very interesting about the need for variety at the salad bar. I can see that because I'm more interested in a diverse salad bar than I bland one.

  16. We have a salad bar in our elem. school. It was actually dropped from the menu but brought back by popular demand! My son isn't a salad eater, but daughter is. Just don't get the "chicken" salad-it is made with chopped up chicken patties!

  17. HOORAY for lunchtime salad bars!!! I am a huge proponent of them. I believe they are a very important tool in increasing vegetable consumption and developing autonomy in young children. I studied this subject as part of my Master's program this past semester and I actually just blogged about my thoughts on this the other day (
    In that post I included some of the most recent studies on this. They are rather interesting.

    Adams, M., R.Pelletier, R., Zive, M, Sallis, J. (2009) Salad Bars and Fruit and Vegetable Consumption in Elementary Schools: A Plate Waste Study. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 105 (11), 1789-1792.

    Angelopoulos, P.D. Millionis, HJ., Grammatikaki, E. Moschonis, G. Manios, Y., (2009). Changes in BMI and blood pressure after a school based intervention: The CHILDREN study. The European Journal of Health Advance Access, 19(3), 319-325.

    Slusser, W., Cumberland, J., Browdy, L., Lange, L. (2006). A School Salad Bar Increases Frequency of Fruit and Vegetable Consumption Among Children Living in Low-income Households. Public Health Nutrition, (10), 1490-1496.

  18. Mrs. Q,

    I am the grown daughter public school teacher parents in Indiana. I have been reading for quite some time, and would just like to thank you for your efforts.

  19. Salad bars are a great thing. I'm lucky that the nearby supermarket has a good one (not as great as Whole Foods' though). I've done some (Internet) reading/research on the topic in schools. Doing one in school for lunch can get tricky, especially if you're trying to fit it into the school lunch program.

    It is possible to utilize a salad bar in school lunch, and have it count in the USDA School Lunch Program for reimbursable meals, but of course you have to make sure your t's are crossed and i's dotted and all hoops jumped through. It can be complex, determining if the salad bar can count as an entree or a side dish, how much students must take (and of what items) for it to count. For the school lunch professionals, the USDA has a guidance document:

    Aside from that, for any salad bar to be successful, some advance planning is key, based on what I've read. You have to prepare for and gear up prior to opening one. Is there enough space? Are the staff properly trained? Will the kids have enough time to go through it? Make sure everyone knows that one is coming, and what will be served. Depending on the age of the students, the kids have to be trained on the proper use and etiquette. You could do self-serve or have it staffed. Again, the USDA offers a nice "how-to" plan:

    Sigh. It's never as easy as you'd like. And there was one other write-up of another salad bar experience providing more detail about what worked and what would have worked better. If I find it I'll post it.

  20. There was a salad and baked potato bar at my middle school – I choose that more often than not! I loved having the ability to have a salad at lunch when I was so conscious of my body – and it really helped grow my love of veggies from that point on. Even now, 90% of the time I prefer a plate loaded with veggies over a burger or pizza.

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