Guest blog: A Salad Bar in Every School

A Salad Bar in Every School!
The smells of back-to-school: freshly sharpened pencils, old leather seats of yellow busses, chalk dust, and lettuce?  This fall, my foundation’s premier project, Food Family Farming Foundation’s, The Lunch Box is partnering with Whole Foods Market to implement a remarkable new program, which will change school lunch-rooms across the nation – The Great American Salad Bar Project.  With rates of nutrition-related disease and childhood obesity on the rise, now is the time to start making positive change in the way we feed our children. The initial phase of the Great American Salad Bar Project will raise enough money, via local Whole Foods Markets, thru in-store and online donations, to grant at least one salad bar a school within fifty miles of the store.  That’s almost 300 salad bars!  Schools that meet the requirements are encouraged to apply on the Great American Salad Bar Project website for review and will be chosen by a simple set of criteria. 
A salad bar in a school cafeteria provides a healthy option for students on a daily basis.  A typical salad bar will include: fresh multi-colored lettuce, a variety of vegetable “toppings” such as beets, carrots, and jicama, proteins such as chicken, beans, cottage cheese or tofu, whole grains, fresh fruit and healthy salad dressings. One requirement for schools who wish to apply is that they participate in the National School Lunch Program.  The National School Lunch Program is a federally funded program that provides low-cost or free meals to children across the country.  Children who participate in the National School Lunch Program are often most at-risk for the effects of a poor diet. 
School is a sacred space for learning, so why shouldn’t this extend into the cafeteria? School meals should not only provide the nourishment children need to excel throughout the school day, but should also serve as a lesson in making life-long wellness choices. Offering salad at lunch helps to provide this lesson and teaches children to include a variety of fresh vegetables, fruit, whole grains and healthy proteins in their diet.  The salad bar provides an array of options and allows students to try new items on their own.  Often students will make choices from the salad bar and create delicious and colorful dishes to suit their taste.
The facts are simple: this could quite possibly be the first generation of children in our country’s history to die at a younger age than their parents. 
It is predicted by the Center for Disease Control that of all children born in the year 2000, one-third will contract diabetes.  These outrageous statistics can only be stopped by a massive overhaul of the way our children eat and the Great American Salad Bar Project is one giant step in the right direction.
Take this wonderful opportunity to do something good for yourself and your community.  Take a trip to your local Whole Foods, purchase some of the healthy food they offer for yourself and your family, and then donate what you can to the Great American Salad Bar project. Know that with your donation you are participating in an effort to change the future health of our country.
Eat well, use your dollar to vote for healthy food, and help us change the way kids eat across the country for the better.  
To donate online or to find out more about the Great American Salad Bar Project please visit our website at:


Mrs Q here–Over the summer I had the pleasure to chat with Chef Ann by phone. I billed it as a “Q&A” as I had plenty of questions for her, but it ended up turning into a friendly chat. I forgot to take notes, but I left the conversation happy…  and in awe. She is a dynamic woman and I’m so impressed by what she has taken on to make children’s lives healthier through food.

Without notes I didn’t have much of a blog post to write. It’s easy to look up information about Chef Ann and what she is doing now, but I wanted to know more about her as a person, her story. Back when she wanted to be a chef (in the 1970s), it was not the thing people did as it was considered more of a domestic duty. The Food Network had yet to be born (and me too!) to glamorize cooking.

But Chef Ann persisted and made it her life’s work. And look at what she has done as the “Renegade Lunch Lady.” Congrats! Check her redesigned Lunch Box website.

I’m pretty thrilled to hear about her effort to put a salad bar in every school. It is one of the motivations behind putting advertising on my blog: I would love to raise enough money to purchase a salad bar for my school.

In honor of Chef Ann’s hard work, I’m giving away a copy of Lunch lessons: Changing the way we feed our children by Ann Cooper and Liza M. Holmes. To enter the giveaway, please leave a comment on this post regarding your opinion on salad bars in the schools. I never had a salad bar at any of the schools I attended but my husband had a salad bar in his middle school and told me that he loved piling a plate with veggies. Comments will be closed on Wednesday September 8th.

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40 thoughts on “Guest blog: A Salad Bar in Every School

  1. We had a salad bar in my high school, but it was a sad, withered affair with very few options (and only Ranch dressing!) I would be THRILLED to see a salad bar similar to the one in the Whole Foods stores at a school! There are so many options and all the food looks so fresh and yummy! I think that could actually change the way kids eat!

  2. Both of my daughters have been privileged to have a salad bar from Kindergarten on. At the elementary level it was offered two days a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays. I know that both girls took advantage of it many times (the younger still does). At the middle school level, there was always the option of a salad bar and now that the oldest is a junior, she has so many choices for lunch, many healthy, some not as much.

  3. Our school used to have a salad bar. I often listened to the six year old girls saying "they HAD to eat the salad bar today because they were just SO FAT right now." (Can you hear the little girl accents?) I found it horrifying, which is also how I would describe a salad bar after little kids got in there. Not sanitary. And- not healthy- no they don't know what is good for them. They choose to eat meals of croutons and salad dressing when they have free rein. While I'm all for adding veggies everywhere possible, schools cannot police a salad bar adequately.

  4. Lunch Lessons was one of the first books I bought concerning how we feed our children! So Do not enter me in the drawing. BTW Fantastic book! Chef Ann is one of my heros!

    I'm going to WF's today (grass fed beef is on sale)and I'll be sure to donate.

    There was NOT a salad bar in my school in the 70's and neither of my kids have had a salad bar in their schools either. I think it would be a great way, particularly in Elementary Schools, to introduce fresh veggies.

  5. We used to have a salad bar at school and the teachers LOVED it. The kids didn't seem to enjoy it as much. Unfortunately we started outsourcing our cafeteria services and the company we use doesn't do salad bars. A sad day indeed!

    I'd love to see a salad bar with some sort of local veggies in it. It would be a lot of work, but I think it's doable (and would also make for a very interesting co-curricular class!)

  6. I had a salad bar in my high school. Of course I went to very affluent school. We also had a planetarium and two swimming pools! Although sometimes not everything in the salad bar was as fresh or appetizing as it could have been, I still used it frequently. As a matter of fact, if I was having lunch in school (as opposed to driving away from school for lunch) I used pretty much always used that salad bar. I still love a good salad bar for lunch today, but unfortunately there isn't one in my small town.

    Thanks for your hard work,being a champion for healthy lunches. (Randa)

  7. I never had a salad bar at the school I attended, nor was there one at most of the schools I taught at. However, I can think of a couple, one where I taught, and one where I substituted, and they had salad bars. I loved having the chance to eat soup and a salad!

  8. I have a hazy memory of a salad bar in the second, more well off elementary school that I attended (though my mom packed my lunch). The first elementary school I attended was pretty broke and we didn't have one. I do remember that there wasn't a big focus on quality greens when I was a kid – salad bars were just iceberg lettuce. As a little kid, I liked raw veggies best, so a quality salad bar would have been awesome. There may have been one in middle school and high school. However, we had an open campus in high school for sophomores on up, so most of us never saw the inside of the cafeteria past our freshman year.

    The next salad bars I saw were in the dining halls during my undergrad. They were one of the best options, other than stir fry. Good greens, including spinach, plenty of protein options and we had an oil & vinegar DIY salad dressing option along with the normal stuff.

  9. We had a salad bar in our high school in the early 90's…but I remember it being iceburg lettuce, fake bacon bits, and sunflower seeds. 🙂 So I'm glad they specified the salad bar would have multi colored lettuce and veggies/protein! 🙂 Thanks for the book opportunity!

  10. I had a salad bar at the jr high level, and I loved it! It was the most popular lunch venue at our school, which says alot because our school contracted with pizza hut to bring in personal pan pizza's every day for kids to buy. They also had Taco bell bring in tacos that the kids could buy…but the salad bar reigned supreme. I am pushing for a salad bar for my children's school and am being met with much resistance.

  11. Access to a salad bar in a school cafeteria seems like such a no-brainer, I can hardly believe there are people who object to it.

    I have a daughter who just started 2nd grade and another daughter who is not in school yet. We have many school years ahead of us and I absolutely want them to have healthy food to feul their bodies and minds.

    Just putting a salad bar in the cafeteria is not enough, however. I think nutrition needs to be prominently taught in the classroom as part of health education and science/biology. It's been a long time since I went to school, but other than a very brief lesson about the food pyramid I don't think nutrition was discussed. We strive to provide a healthy diet for ourselves and our kids, we have conversations about appropriate food choices, and I think it would be wonderful to have this information reinforced at school.

    Mrs. Q, thank you for putting your time into this project, and thank you for this giveaway opportunity!

  12. To me, it's a no-brainer. The unfortunate reality is that quite a few kids aren't keen on salads – even afraid of them. I'm firmly in the camp that believes those children are much more likely to give fresh fruit & veg a try if we offer them regularly.

    Of course, there are also lots of kids who would be thrilled to fill up their plates with fresh greens (and other delicious veggies). So why deny them this?

  13. Like Cory, we had a pathetic salad bar in high school. (I'm also sure we only had ranch, which I don't even like on salads anymore!) At the time, I didn't much care for veggies, although I would eat a salad topped with carrots, cucumbers, and celery. I guess, in some cases, this is more than some people, but I didn't like a lot of cooked veggies either (English peas, green beans, etc.), beans, and many a raw vegetable (cabbage, broccoli, etc.). Then I was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease, and wasn't allowed to eat raw veggies for months. Once I was out of the hospital and working toward remission, I made a vow to try new healthier foods to discover what I really liked and disliked…rather than basing my choices on poor arbitrary habits developed as a child. I found I love (most) veggies! I believe that if children actually had the opportunity to try vegetables, either fresh or properly prepared, they would like them. When I have kids, I fully intend to stick by the rule that you have to try something 15 times before you know whether you like it or not, and already my husband and I have salads and veggies with our meals. (We don't eat much meat or poultry.)

  14. The elementary school that I work at doesn't have a salad bar, per se, but we do have an organic garden. Veggies and fruit from the garden are offered to the students and staff. Last week we had the most delicious cantelope harvested from the school garden (better than the cantelope from my CSA)!! Fortunately, I have an amazing principal who understands nutrition and supports change for healthier kids. Our facilities manager is also awesome. He built the a raised bed garden for each class and helps the students tend the garden. I wish we had a salad bar, because the kids don't have an opportunity to try new foods if they aren't offered. We do have raw veggies and ranch dressing often. I also wish we had a gym that wasn't also serving as the cafeteria and all purpose room so classes that have PE after lunch periods would be able to use the entire gym floor, and not just the half that is already dry.

  15. I would love to see a salad bar in every school in our school system. When we go out to dinner both my 4 and 8 year old daughters will order a salad or salad bar if it is avaliable. They love it when we have a "big salad" for dinner. I don't know of two kids who eat a more well rounded diet and it is all because they have been exposed to it from the time they were able to eat each type of food. If other children were exposed to a salad bar and saw other kids their age enjoying a salad they would eventually follow suit and start joining in. I send a salad at least 3 out of 5 days a week with my daugher's lunch and she tells me that her friends are jealous and want me to pack their lunch too. Kids are more open to trying new foods than most adults think.

  16. Salad bar at my jr. high consisted of pre-made salads with ice berg lettuce, lots of cheese and ham or turkey cubes and crackers galore. Did I mention that we could add as much ranch dressing as we wanted? It came in one of those squeeze tubes from the kitchen and it was definitely not healthy. If we had a real salad bar in my school I'm not sure if the kids would use it, after all most of these kids are used to eatting fried foods because for their family its cheap and affordable…in fact I'm not even sure they would know what real veggies look like much less what a salad bar is…:(

  17. I remember in elementary school I *LOVED* Tuesdays and Thursdays because those were salad bar days.

    Though once I got into junior high and high school I can't remember salad bar being an option at all.

    I think that kids should be offered healthy choices at school every day of the week!

  18. I’ve just got to wonder if it is really the cost of the bar that is the concern for most, or if there are other issues that are a bigger problem. Mrs. Q’s building would be an example, I’d guess. Without a fully equipped kitchen, it would be tough to stock a salad bar.

    We've got a time (15 minutes, students must get the food and eat it)and space (seating) issue. Yes, a school at capacity – but I guess, on the other hand, that it is good to live in a growing area. I can't control that. We are doing what we can by offering pre-made salads. Not the same, but a step we can take. Of course, that leads to the packaging being something to be thrown out, so maybe we can't win. *smile*

    And there are other concerns, which others have mentioned – monitoring for sanitation and portion and such. It can be labor intensive to do it right. It's something that does need to be considered.

    I hope there will be follow up. It can sometimes help, when approaching administration, to be able to say “Look, they had this kind of situation at this school and it is working there! We should be able to do this too.”

    Oh, and I don’t need the book, if I should be so fortunate – I’ve got a copy already.

  19. Our school has a salad bar type set up, but unfortunately the cafeteria workers say the kids make too much of a mess, so instead it is filled with little plastic cups of salad and other single serving fruit/veggie items ready for the taking. I don't mind this so much, but I wish there were options other than ranch dressing and the "salad" wasn't a little cup of iceberg with a tomato on top. For one thing, a non-ranch option could mean that kids who are allergic to dairy would actually be able to eat salad.

    The kids do get a salad menu option daily, and these are typically larger and contain a decent enough variety of veggies.

    I don't know, I can see it from both perspectives. For kids in 4th to 12th grade a daily salad bar sounds like a great thing. For littler kids I can see where there just is not the time and staff to make sure the kids can move through the line, choose actual food and don't completely destroy the serving area.

    Growing up, we had a salad bar in high school but I seem to remember it had also been abandoned in favor of pre-packaged salads.

  20. Hi Mrs. Q,
    I didn't have a salad bar in school until I got to college. While salad was a welcome option, it was often just iceberg lettuce, mealy tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, maybe some garbanzo beans for variety, and a choice of ranch or French dressing. As an adult, I don't eat these kinds of dressings, instead opting for olive oil and balsamic or fresh lemon/lime juice on dark leafy greens, assorted seasonal veggies or fruit, and seeds or nuts such as sunflower seeds or walnuts.

    I am very encouraged to hear that Chef Ann's plans include, "fresh multi-colored lettuce, a variety of vegetable 'toppings' such as beets, carrots, and jicama, proteins such as chicken, beans, cottage cheese or tofu, whole grains, fresh fruit and healthy salad dressings." These are all excellent, healthy, and delicious salad bar choices that both kids and adults would enjoy! I hope that her goal of a salad bar and nutrition education in every school can be achieved.

    P.S. I donated to my local Whole Foods in Chicago earlier this week. Maybe some of those donations will benefit your school!

  21. To have had a salad bar in any of my schools growing up would've been great.
    My children will be attending the same school district that I did as a child in 2 years. It's probably about time to see if any positive changes have been made since I attended school.

  22. I think a salad bar option would be wonderful for all school levels–as long as the sanitation issues can be addressed.

  23. Our elementary school is finally getting a salad bar — once a week. It will be shared by three schools. Still, we're really excited. If you can get your school lunch program to agree to actually buy fresh vegetables and chop them up, the equipment itself is not that expensive – a PTA fundraiser could probably handle it.

  24. I graduated hs in 2002, and we didn't have a salad bar, but I know they have one now every day, at least at the jh and hs level. However, I agree with others who reiterate that the salad bars need to be filled with only health options (no pasta "salad," canned fruits, croutons, bacon bits, etc) because most kids, even older ones, don't have the impulse control to resist the unhealthy options, which I am sure are available in large quantities in the general a la carte line

  25. I never had a salad bar in school until I got to the university level. I would LOVE it if my son's school offered a salad bar, he's become a picky eater & I know that he would happily pile a plate with veggies for lunch. Instead, he seems to have mostly defaulted to a bagel every day. Which makes me crazy after I spent all these years making sure he had a healthy lunch.

    The contrast between what he's eating and what my older son at college now has is astonishing. My younger son's public school is serving the same type of awful food you are eating. A salad bar would be a simple, huge difference in the quality of food he eats. By contrast, my older son's university cooks their food on campus and has a huge variety of healthy options. Why? Because they believe that students need good quality food to be at their best to learn.

    I hope that introducing salad bars to the schools will be one of the first steps towards healthier lunches.

  26. I'm going to be a senior in high school (Class of 2011). I wish my cafeteria would have a salad bar because I would love to make up my own creations. Our school lunches are gross, fatty, and there are too many people in the lunch lines just to get food. Heck, even my history teacher told us to avoid the school's food at all cost!
    I went to Penn State over the summer and I took advantage of the salad bar there. Why? Because I wanted to plus the food there was free as I was a guest there.

  27. My middle school had a salad bar for the first year or so that I was there. I loved to get a salad and soup if the lettuce that day didn't look like it had been sitting out since the day before. Sometimes I remember choosing against the salad bar because there was quite a line and I knew that if I waited I would never have enough time to eat the salad I just waited for. My high school had a "salad station" that consisted of pre-made salads some of which were taco some where chef with processed cheese and meat on them. Being a picky eater I very rarely went to the salad station because I liked to be able to pick what I put on my salad. I started to eat from the salad station when I was trying to eat healthier but then I realized how many fat grams and calories the salad dressings that were offered had and it was basically like me eating a burger and fries by the end of it.

    I think installing salad bars need to go hand in hand with longer lunch periods so kids actually have enough time to go through the lines and sit down and eat like civilized people. I was always slow to get from the classroom to the lunchroom and always ended up with too little time to eat so I would just eat what ever was quickest to eat which always ended up being pizza. (twice a week it was papa johns the other 3 times it was school made both of which just dripped grease I always grabbed a stack of napkins to soak it up…)

  28. Someone mentioned sanitation issues earlier. Food quality and safety need to be addressed when it comes to salads in school.

    I went to elementary school in Deep South Texas in the late 1980s. A very Hispanic area, and it was reflected in our hot lunch menus. That was pretty cool. Interestingly, we had a "Salad Day" once a week. We could choose the hot lunch or the salad bar. On that day, most students actually chose the salad bar. We liked it. Looking back, the dressings probably weren't the healthiest, but it was nice to have the salad as a choice. However, that's where my fond memories of the salad bar end.

    See, I got sick after eating the salad one day. I puked all over a library book in Mrs. Ortiz's classroom. My mom had to come and pick me up. I don't know what it was in the salad, but it was definitely the salad that made me sick. Maybe the ranch dressing wasn't kept cool enough. Maybe the lettuce wasn't cleaned well.

    Unfortunately, every time I hear about salad bars in school, I think about that time the salad made me sick in the classroom.

  29. we had a salad bar in high school, but i don't recall it being overly crowded at lunch time. unfortunately, what i do remember about MY salads was the amount of chopped ham, cheese, and croutons i piled onto my plate! in retrospect probably not the healthiest choices even though i migrated to the salad bar!

  30. While I love the idea of fresh veggies and salad bar, I don't think it would be practical in my district. Lunch is only 20 minutes. Just getting the kids through the line takes half their lunch away. A bunch of kids having to decide what they want wouldn't work out. Can they perhaps just offer more fresh veggies daily?

  31. We sometimes had a salad bar in my high school, but it only had lettuce and ranch dress, no veggies, so no one really used it. A REAL salad bar would have been incredibly popular.

    One of the places I worked had a salad bar in our cafeteria. It was a very impressive one, much like the ones I imagine Whole Foods will help put in the schools. It had a wide range of fresh veggies, tofu, whole grains, etc. But the problem was that it also contained a wide variety of much-loved, very unhealthy salad dressings, as well as ham and cheese. You could stand by the salad bar and watch the same thing happen over and over again: Adults would create themselves a super healthy salad, and then smother it in ranch (or another equally unhealthy) dressing. Other people created a healthy salad, only to pile on the ham and cheese, and THEN smother it in dressing. At that point, the salad is no longer really a healthy meal.

    So I think it is important that the dressings be strategically chosen. Perhaps labeling the toppings with calorie/nutrition information would helper older students make healthier choices (I know it would have worked for me!). And for the younger students, maybe there could be pre-packaged dressings and a limit of one package per-person, to limit the amount of dressing they can put on their salads. Or a salad bar supervisor for the first few days to help kids make healthy choices.

  32. I volunteered in my son's school lunch room this week. I was thrilled to see a salad bar and to see how many kids ate from it! And they really did pile their plates high with it and eat most of it. The only thing was that they only offer salad bar to 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders.

  33. Our 4th grader has had salad bar as an option since 4th grade – although through some questioning, most of the kids tend to load up on the cottage cheese, canned fruit, etc. He also said they previous days leftovers tend to show up on the salad bar the next day.

    So my thoughts? If it is done well, great – healthy foods, FRESH foods, and staff/volunteers available to help explain foods/choices to the kids.

  34. Thanks for commenting!! The salad bar absolutely has to be done right or why do it? Veggies don't have mega-marketing campaigns (usually) so they better look darn appealing at school! Combine it with a little education and we'd be off and running!

  35. I'd love to read this book. I didn't have a salad bar until I got to college. My son's elementary school definitely doesn't have one now. I wish we lived nearer a Whole Foods and could take advantage of this opportunity! We are brainstorming ways of getting veggies into his school with a school garden…
    They really do need their salad!

  36. My husband is the P.E. teacher at the elementary theme school in our county. I absolutely yum yum (love in food terms) the idea of a salad bar at school. The school currenlty offeres packaged salads, but typically the kids pick the salad over because they do not like certain parts of the salad. If they were able to choose only the parts of the salad that they do like perhaps they would eat more.

    I have just stumbled upon your blog and I am looking forward to going back and reading previos blogs. We would really like to revamp our schools lunches.

    keep up the great work

  37. My middle school has a salad bar and some days it's good and some days it's not…
    It starts out pretty good on Monday, and by Friday it's lookin' kinda ugly. Fake bacon bits, artificial hard-boiled eggs, chopped broccoli and limp, yellow lettuce was all that was available the last day I looked. YUK! No wonder most of the kids bought a corn dog and then hit the grab and go window for some chips, a chocolate muffin, and an ice cream sandwich.
    A school salad bar has to be pretty! That's really not too hard…fruits and veggies are naturally pretty. It's not hard to make them look good if they are fresh.
    People are practically giving away watermelon and cantaloupe in my area right now and I haven't seen any in my school's cafeteria. What's prettier than a juicy watemelon? Not many kids can resist it.
    So – yes I agree. It simply has to be done right for kids to choose it over the other food that is available.

  38. I had so many comments to make as I read my way down this thread but then I saw your comment Mrs. Q and just beamed 😀 As you know, I am working on launching a major marketing campaign for veggies combined with a little dose of nutrition education, the Veggiecation Program. Thanks for pointing out the need for education and empowerment!

    Also, I want to congratulate and thank Chef Ann for launching this awesome program! Salad bars are key to increasing exposure & familiarity with new foods. They also support autonomy, initiative and industry, three stages in Erikson's stages of psychosocial development. As Chef Ann said "School is sacred space for learning" shouldn't the lunchroom be a place that supports individual growth and development.

  39. I think it is a great idea. I had the option of salad bar in high school and really enjoyed it. I just wonder if my girls would have enough time to go through the line and assemble their salads and enough time to eat it before the bell rings.

  40. We had standard (or rather, sub-standard) regular meals in my school up until high school, which added the a la carte line and a salad bar. Up until then, I didn't have much problem sticking with my dad making my sandwichs, but I made a point to actually save pocket change so I could have our salad bar often. It was a simple one, regular lettice and not much variety on toppings, but it was so nice to have a fresh meal that I could put together myself. And since it was bascily whatever you could load on your plate, I always ended up with a huge salad, which was a lot more than I would get in the regular line!

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