Reinventing Healthy Eating with Salad Bars to Schools

Learn how this nutrition services director leveraged the Salad Bars to Schools program to get kids excited about eating healthy

  • April 03, 2019
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Are you passionate about real food in schools? If so, you can help by supporting the Chef Ann Foundation—click here!

 

 

By Georgina Rupp

Director of Child Nutrition Services Jamie Phillips is not new to school salad bars, and it shows. Having already implemented his first salad bar program while at Upland Unified School District (USSD), Phillips wasted no time in applying for the Salad Bars to Schools program at his new district, Vista Unified (located in Vista, California). By leveraging the grant and new salad bars as a cohesive program, he established a crucial base for reinventing the way kids in his district view healthy eating.

Since implementing the salad bars in August 2017, Phillips has seen a tremendous impact on what children are eating.

"The biggest change is that, while all kids go through the lunch line, we have more kids taking items from the salad bar," Phillips said. He added that since they've upgraded from the old salad bars with cracked glass to sleek, brushed aluminum equipment, kids have been more likely to choose vegetables.

It's not just the physical salad bars that have changed kids' minds, though. Phillips’ program has launched other initiatives throughout the district that promote healthy eating to students. Classrooms now include lessons on how to create a "rainbow-colored" tray filled with fruits and vegetables, and the Harvest of the Month program features one special fruit or vegetable for kids to see and taste.

Gardening has also been a transformative part of their program. Vista Unified holds school garden classes in which kids grow all the produce," Phillips shared. From the garden, the fruits & vegetables go to the salad bar for the next lunch. Phillips often “pays” fair market value for all the produce, and the proceeds go right back into the garden program, which has proven highly successful.

"Our high school students at Vista High donated over 100 pounds of romaine lettuce, so they are interested in coming back to eat it," Phillips noted, indicating the excitement  of student-grown nourishment.

Younger children are invested, too. Elementary schools hold farmers' markets at which students can purchase two school-dollars’ worth of produce. One school's mascot is the Panther, so students there pay in "Panther Bucks."

As a whole, Vista Unified School District (VUSD) has embraced the Farm-to-School mission. The cafeteria program partners with nearby farms to serve local produce and engage the community.

In the 2017-18 school year, VUSD's produce included over 75,000 lbs of California-based foods; as of February 2019, the district had already reached 144,000 lbs of local produce, staying on track to hit 175,000 lbs by the end of the year.

Working with small, local farmers requires extra work, but Phillips says it is worth it. The district works with 60 different farmers, some of whom only have a few acres of land. To help streamline the process, farmers deliver all of their produce to one central location, from which the district allocates out to schools.

Coordinating that many vendors into agreement is not easy. Most school food contracts include language that excludes farmers, and many farmers are hesitant to partner with schools due to the food regulations and requirements for delivery without contingency. To better embrace local procurement, VUSD drew up new contracts to offer more flexibility to farmers; if one farmer can't provide produce at a given time, the district will go to another farmer on the list.

"We want to work with farmers," Phillips said. "Our kids—their parents are working at these farms. We want to support the community."

All of this community coordination is possible with the district’s salad bars and their ability to serve a wide range of fresh and local produce. The program has also piqued parents’ interest. Phillips sends out a monthly newsletter offering kitchen tours and surveys to gauge awareness of the Farm-to-School and salad bar efforts. An elementary school survey this fall revealed that, of 195 responses, 95.7% were aware of their Farm-to-School salad bar.

"In the two and a half years I've been here, I've thrown a lot on my employees," Phillips acknowledged. "I am constantly trying to improve our farm-to-school programs. It wouldn't be possible without their support and dedication."

For VUSD, working towards food equity doesn't stop here—reducing food waste is another priority on Phillips’ list. He’s implementing share tables in the cafeteria in order to donate leftover food to food banks in the area.

"School food is critical," he said. "The food we are putting in our kids' bodies is a reflection of them. Our kids are going to be our future, realistically taking care of us some day. We need them to grow up healthy and take care of themselves. Hopefully, they can learn healthy habits at a young age and see the benefits of that long term."

For more information on the Salad Bars To Schools program, and to apply for a grant in your district, visit saladbars2schools.org today.

Are you passionate about real food in schools? If so, you can help by supporting the Chef Ann Foundation—click here!

 

 


Georgina Rupp is a freelance writer based in Denver, Colorado. Inspired to pursue writing by her appreciation for the community that gathers around good food, she comes to the Chef Ann team after three years teaching in public education. When she wasn't in the classroom, she spent her afternoons in the cafeteria kitchen alongside students who gained joy and inspiration from cooking nutritious meals. Georgina received her B.A. in Writing from Johns Hopkins University.

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