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Lunchroom Education ‒ Making Salad Bars Work for Your District

This blog post has been reposted with permission from Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools, read the original blog post here.

Revolutionizing your lunchrooms with salad bars is a complex process from the initial idea to the actual implementation. What many of us may not be fully prepared for is the students’ lull in salad bar participation after the initial excitement wears off. So, just how do we build and sustain interest in our salad bars?

In order to maintain a viable reimbursable meal program with salad bars as the anchor, we have to be proactive in ensuring that the salad bar retains its “shine” with the students. Adopting robust, regular Lunchroom Education programs to educate the students from the moment they start visiting our cafeterias will allow us to grow their appetite for fresh foods over the long term.

The earlier we can make an impact on our students’ habits, the more successful our meal programs will become. Tufts University nutritionist, Susan B. Roberts, suggests a “Rule of 15” by exposing children to new foods at the table between 15 and 20 times to see if they will accept it. The repeat, non-coercive exposure helps kids try and like new foods. The other big gamechanger is choice. Having the power of selection is a huge driver for a happier diner. Is it really possible to please the picky diner? Certainly salad bars are a tool that can help.

Here are several salad bar Lunchroom Education ideas and tools from The Lunch Box that will help you create an impact:

  • Rainbow Days: Encourage kids to “make a rainbow” on your school’s salad bar! This is an activity for students to choose at least three different colored vegetables and fruits from the salad bar. Once kids show they’ve eaten their choices, they receive a sticker or small reward. You can engage a local vendor or sponsor, or apply for Chef Ann Foundation’s Project Produce grant to provide the additional fresh fruits and vegetables needed to offer salads for all kids during the Rainbow Day.
  • Tastings: Try out a new slaw recipe, or do tastings of less familiar items on the salad bar as a regular part of your Lunchroom Education. Are you engaged in Farm to School procurement or a Harvest of the Month program? Tasting a freshly harvested product is one the best ways for kids to learn to appreciate “fresh”. Discuss where the produce came from, how the farmer started their farm, and what relationship the farm has to your community.
  • Salad Bar Menu Board: Using a menu board to inform the students what is on your salad bars daily enables you to highlight the salad bar in a direct way. The salad bar is more than a way for you to comply with the regs – it is a commitment to quality and your standard of practice. Though you may have a regular pattern of product offerings, featuring one or two special products; either a seasonal item or a composed salad or a new dressing will help retain the vibrancy of the salad bar in your dining rooms.
  • Salad Bar Signs and Food Labels: In addition to the menu, you can reinforce the names of unfamiliar ingredients with labels. And encourage good salad bar etiquette with student reminder signs in the salad bar area. Print and laminate student salad bar training reminders and create labels for your salad bar ingredients from the free resources on The Lunch Box.

You can also download our newest edition of The Lunch Box Guide to Salad Bars if you prefer a hard copy.

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