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Small Districts Can Find Big Success with Salad Bars

An Interview with Food Service Director Sherri Matuszyk

The date is May 5, 2014. It’s lunchtime at Wethersfield CUSD #230 in Illinois and excitement is in the air. The two-school district has just received two brand new salad bars, one sized for k-6 students, the other for grades 7-12, and today is their big debut. Food service director Sherri Matuszyk, dressed in grape garb in honor of the occasion, stands with a community health advisor doubling as a carrot, ready to introduce the students to the new equipment and the vegetables and fruits that fill it.

The salad bars are brimming with freshly cut celery sticks, juicy grape tomatoes and orange wedges that tempt the children into making orange smiles. Balloons are everywhere and stickers (what kids wouldn’t do for stickers!) are handed out freely to all those who are trying the fresh produce. It’s a day of fun and celebration, one that certainly won’t be forgotten by the students, the staff, or Matuszyk.

  • District Enrollment: 578
  • Number of Schools in District: 2
  • Free and Reduced Percentage: 49%
  • District Average Daily Participation: 54%

My food service staff does a great job every day to make the salad bars a success! I couldn’t do it without them,” Matuszyk humbly remarks. But, tribute must be paid to Matuszyk herself, who led the charge in her district towards moving salad bars to her schools. After the new Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act regulations went into effect, Wethersfield began adjusting to the changes. Like many school districts, they found it hard to maintain participation levels during the transition. With almost two decades of experience under her belt, Matuszyk saw the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools grant as the perfect opportunity to bring positive change to her lunchroom and increase her average daily participation.

And what a positive change the bars have made. After implementation, the teachers noticed their lunch counts were increasing. Thinking it might be because of hot lunch favorites like pizza day, they surveyed their students. Survey says: the salad bars were the reason more children were opting back into school lunch. Believe it or not, beet sticks turned out to be a 4th grade favorite! “I was out running with a friend one day,” recalls Matuszyk, “…and a student noticed me and yelled out ‘thanks for the salad bars!’ That was awesome!

Planning for the Bars

A key component to the success of the Wethersfield salad bars was thoughtful preparation before the equipment arrived. From the time that her application was approved to when she was notified that her district would be getting the bars, Matuszyk had seven months to brainstorm how she would integrate them into her program. She notes that The Lunch Box salad bar resource page was very helpful in the planning stages. In the month leading up to the bars’ arrival, Matuszyk incorporated the new salad bar offerings into the menu plans, defined the new salad bar responsibilities for her staff, and trained them on salad bar safety and handling of fresh produce.

She also developed a salad bar etiquette presentation for the kids. Shot by students and starring Wethersfield’s own sunny food service director, the quirky video got the student body comfortable with the new equipment by explaining salad bar dos and don’ts, including how to take the correct portion size.

Matuszyk’s Advice to Small Districts

You don’t have to be a large district with a large staff to make this a success,” Matuszyk emphasizes. Her staff has only seven dedicated lunch ladies, and they make it work. “Stage, plan, preview, have plenty of help and support that first day, start simple,” she says. “I’m not a teacher but I think of it as giving lessons every day.

Matuszyk feels so strongly about the benefit of salad bars that she has offered up her own cafeteria as a place of learning for other districts. “I’d be happy to host smaller districts in my area and answer questions about how to do service. It’s a huge change, but the students love the salad bars.

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