Marketing Your Salad Bar

Overview

Salad bars are an excellent way to engage the community in your food service department’s commitment to providing fresh and healthy whole foods to the students every day. Parents, the school administrative teams, teachers, and the broader community can all play a part in your salad bar success.  Marketing supports the long-term success of your salad bar implementation through educating students, instilling confidence in your program with the school teams, and reaching out to parents and the broader community to support this exciting addition.

Communication with Principals and Parents

Informing the broader school community of a district’s addition of salad bars and the resulting benefits is an important part of salad bar success. We encourage the director to inform principals directly by meeting with them and explaining the roll out plan. This will assure school leadership that the food services department is prepared for the change and that it will be positive for the school. In our experience, there is little resistance from the principal and their teams when they are alerted to the change and understand how it will be integrated into the existing lunch program.

If “push-back” occurs, it often involves concern around the time it may take for students to go through the salad bar in addition to going through the hot line. This is why it is very important to meet with school leadership early, show them how the flow of students will be affected, and literally “sell them” on the positive impact of offering the students more choice, fresher foods, and the opportunity to lay a solid foundation for life-long health. If food service takes the lead in salad bar implementation, then all the other stakeholders--principals, teachers, assistant teachers, parents, and students--are more likely to be supportive.

Key Steps for Communication

  • Set up individual meetings with school principals and agree on a rollout date.
  • Send information home to parents via the school network (e.g., Friday folders, newsletters, school website).
  • Make announcements at PTA/PTO meetings. If well attended, set up a sample salad bar for them to experience first-hand.
  • Distribute a press release via district communications office.
  • Post photos and information about the salad bar program on food service web pages.

Engaging Students in the Cafeteria

Now that your salad bar is up and running and things are going well, there’s more that you can do to engage the kids and raise participation. Here’s what works:

Rainbow Days Activity

The Lunch Box has developed a student activity called Rainbow Days that has been wildly successful in increasing salad bar participation in Boulder Valley School District. Though some schools had already been offering salad bars for up to three years, the excitement around salad bars grew tremendously with the introduction of this one-day activity which encourages kids to choose three food colors (not including white foods) from the salad bar and receive a prize once they eat them, in this case an I Made a Rainbow Sticker

The activity and supporting promotions have been put together in a step-by-step Rainbow Days guide.

Tastings and Product Identification

Promoting salad bar participation through Tasting events is a win-win. As with Rainbow Days, it is useful to have some volunteers out in the dining room to assist the food service staff with student engagement. Ideas for tastings can include having students:

  • Try seasonal products
  • Compare different varieties of the same item
  • Taste something raw versus cooked
  • Give feedback on a new salad recipe that the district is trying out on the salad bar

Your produce vendors or local farmer contacts can be very helpful in creating a tasting event by showing up to engage the students and answer questions. Regional Farm to School networks are a great resource for creating relationships with local farms and producers. “Harvest of the Month” (see Art Contests page for explanation) is another theme that can be used to educate and support student tastings. Your State Department of Agriculture or local Agricultural Extension office is often a great resource for providing seasonality charts as well as identifying farms to engage with.

The activity and supporting promotions have been put together in a step-by-step Tastings event guide.

Parent and Caregiver Engagement

Many school districts have active parent volunteer programs. Parents can be a positive influence in the cafeteria by encouraging kids to try to new foods, to use utensils properly, to not reach too far, and to avoid spilling. Building confidence is an important part of students’ willingness to make a trip to the salad bar daily, and this is where parent volunteers can really help. We’ve seen districts set up a parent liaison program to promote stronger communication between food services and the individual school’s parent communities. We encourage food services to have a presence at PTO/PTA meetings to help grow the relationships and encourage parents to volunteer in the cafeteria.  

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