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Minnesota Raising the Bar for School Foods

In Minnesota, more and more schools are finding that salad bars are a popular way to offer kids a rainbow of healthy foods. “Kids love it. They get to choose what they want and how much. It doesn’t take much to get them onboard,” said Lisa Gemlo, Fruit and Vegetable Coordinator and Farm to School Planner for the Minnesota Department of Health. Lisa is working with the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools initiative to help schools throughout Minnesota get salad bars and stock them with delicious produce items. From a health standpoint, this is wonderful. “We know that the majority of Minnesota school-aged children do not eat the daily recommended servings of fruit and vegetables. Salad bars provide an easy and proven way to get kids to eat more of these foods. In the end, this builds healthier students who are ready to learn,” said Gemlo.

The state offers a web site to highlight the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools partnership, where schools and partners can find helpful information to learn about the program and how to apply for salad bars. Gemlo is helping schools be successful by working with school districts and other organizations around the state to promote salad bars. She is also working with the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools program to help educate school districts on how to safely prepare fresh produce and operate salad bars to deliver the highest quality fruits and vegetables to kids.

The Nutrition Services Program in the St. Paul School District administered by Jean Ronnei has been a strong proponent of school salad bars for several years. “Salad bars are great. Anyone who thinks kids hate vegetables should check out our salad bars at lunch,” Ronnei said. “We now have salad bars in all our schools and have found that when kids get to choose a little or a lot of new or familiar fruits and veggies, they gobble them up.”

A number of smaller school districts are now implementing salad bars as well. Independent School District 197, in West St. Paul and Mendota Heights, has five elementary schools. The district just placed two salad bars in elementary schools on September 19, and soon will add two more thanks to donations from local company CH Robinson as part of Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools. They hope to fund their last salad bar in the near future. The district is committed to serving a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables; the salad bar ensures that this change continues to be sustainable. To make funds available for more fruits and vegetables, some less healthy items were eliminated from the menu.

Feedback from principals, teachers, kitchen staff, students and parents in ISD 197 has been positive. Each of the two schools is implementing the salad bar program their own way. For example, one school features kids teaching the whole school how to use the salad bar safely. That same school uses 4th and 5th graders to help younger kids through the salad bar during its first week. At the other school, a teacher noticed kids weren't sure about some of the foods on the salad bar. Some students thought plums were rotten apples and jicama was potatoes. She has done several taste tastings and kids now love both plums and jicama. One teacher says, "Kids love the salad bar. Kids that normally wouldn't take any fruits and vegetables love it."  The kitchen staff was tentative starting out with the salad bars, but now they give them two thumbs up. They say they are surprised at how easy it is to serve meals from the salad bars. On day 1 of the salad bar, they rated the success a 9 out of 10.One school also hosted a Healthy Family Night where parents try the salad bar along with their kids and have a delicious evening snack of fruits and vegetables.

“The Minnesota Department of Health is working with our partners with the goal of getting a salad bar in every school in Minnesota that wants one,” said Gemlo. Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools is a comprehensive public health effort to mobilize and engage stakeholders at the local, state, and national level to significantly increase the number of salad bars in schools across the country until every child has the choice of healthy fruits and vegetables every day at school.  Let's Move Salad Bars to Schools is an initiative of the Food Family Farming Foundation, National Fruit and Vegetable Alliance, United Fresh Produce Association Foundation, and Whole Foods Market. This initiative has pledged to place 6,000 salad bars in schools nationwide.  If your school would like to request a salad bar you can apply at www.saladbars2schools.org.