The addition of salad bars presents a learning opportunity across the district. Food service teams need to manage daily production as well as to show the students that the salad bar is great addition to their meal. For the administration, principals, parents, and community, salad bars represent a distinctly tangible representation of “eating healthy” and is a departure from the antiquated vision of a typical school meal. Since there will be both excitement and trepidation from all sides, we must “train” and include them in the planning and implementation process.
Many school districts have limited or no professional development days that would provide time for focused training on new operational tools such as salad bars (watch our Salad Bar Implementation video to the right). Nor is there much time to reinforce existing standardized procedures in both the kitchen and service areas. In the case of salad bars, training is essential to sustain the program. When preparing to implement salad bars, the director must plan ahead and factor training time into the budget. Dedicated days or half days are ideal, but multiple shorter trainings can be successful, too. It’s common for districts to focus on rolling out a salad bar at one site and then use that as a training location for the next school once that site is running smoothly. If the district is rolling out multiple locations simultaneously, then utilizing professional development days is the most efficient method to ensure that all staff is trained in the same way.
It is possible to find support to help pay for professional development. The district itself may choose to allocate some general fund money to the project. Local sponsors and grants are also options. If the district is dedicating salad bar procurement to local producers, a USDA Farm to School grant is worth considering. Regardless of the uniqueness of the district, inadequate training can lead to additional costs or failure of the program. Poorly articulated methods for ordering, receiving, production, service, and sanitation will ultimately lead to increased costs for the district through inefficiency and ineffective programming. In short, preparation for launch and planned sustainability are essential.
The food service director can create an appropriate training outline depending on the district's operational model. In addition to in-person trainings, the director can utilize the district’s website if a staff section is available to them. Materials posted to the site could be used for refresher training and for new employees joining their team. Consistency is critical to success, so taking the time to articulate your unique salad bar program is imperative. The most common training areas are:
- Customer service
- Menu and layout
- Ordering, receiving, inventory
- Preparation and food handling
- Recordkeeping compliance (counting)
- Salad bar sanitation
- Student education—salad bar as a daily educational tool
Salad bar success is inextricably tied to the district’s embracing of the process. Salad bars are complex additions to the menu and the day-to-day organization of the “back-of-the-house.” It has an equally large impact on the school’s lunch periods.
As part of the planning process, it is important to inform the district of the exciting shift in your operation. Salad bars in general receive positive reception from adults because they are a tangible sign of school food improvement. The administration, school board, and parents can provide critical support for your program. Parents help tremendously by informing their children and supporting school lunch. School boards will see the positive results of increased participation and interest in nutrition that in turn fosters a better educational environment for the community.
Principals and School Teams
School administration supports food service by informing their teams about the changes coming to their school site.
Once the food service director and their team have completed the initial work of planning and strategy, they can move on to informing principals at the designated schools about the menu changes. In many districts, it is not uncommon for food service to seek approval from the principal prior to launching a salad bar. We discourage this approach because systemically food service is responsible for managing all aspects of the meal program. While we recognize that principals take on a lot of ownership of their school, it is extremely important to meet with the principals one-on-one to explore their concerns and seek their support, not to ask for their permission. When principals are assured that the food service department is prepared and organized they will almost always support change.
Engaging the students in using the new salad bar can be the most rewarding part of this whole process. Kids are enthusiastic about having more choices. While the experience of having a salad bar in the dining room is exciting, it can also be overwhelming for some students. Creating clear guidelines for student participation from the beginning is essential. We recommend introducing the salad bar ahead of time by offering samples and educating the students about salad bar etiquette. Cafeteria Activities, such as Rainbow Days, are great ways to engage students in the salad bar.
Food safety concerns can derail a salad bar launch, but we know from thousands of successful operations across the country that salad bars can be operated without harm. Students constantly touch many parts of the cafeteria, from the tables to the service line, and salad bars are no exception. Minimizing risk through student education is imperative. We often see the use of hand sanitizing stations in school districts, but nothing is as effective for student health as hand washing. Many school districts already have extensive educational campaigns to reinforce this important activity for general health. The following list represents the most common food safety practices that we focus on when educating students.
- Always wash your hands before mealtime.
- The sneeze guard is there to keep your head away from the products.
- Ask an adult if you can’t reach.
- Alert staff as soon as a spill happens!
- Food should only be touched with clean utensils—never use your fingers.
- If utensil falls on the floor, don’t put it back—tell an adult.
- Don’t taste food items while you are standing at the salad bar.
- Only take what you can eat. You can always come back for seconds.
- No coughing, spitting, or sneezing on the food or the salad bar equipment.
- Always use a clean plate/boat for seconds.
- Always be polite in line and wait your turn.
- Use the serving utensils every time you reach for something.
Attractive signage to support safe salad bar usage is essential since your team and cafeteria support staff will always have new students to train. The Lunch Box provides Posters and Signs that are free for you to download.
Food education is as important as food safety and can contribute to a healthy learning environment and academic success. This includes the role of the salad bar as part of the reimbursable meal. Students today are often out of practice with eating fresh vegetables and fruits. Creating choices at the salad bar opens up a whole new world of experiences for students.
The district’s prior practices may have included automatically placing fruits and vegetables on students’ trays. Encouraging them to try new foods is one of the most important tasks given to both the food service and education teams. Identifying foods, tasting new foods, creating composed salads that provide blended tastes—these are all very important lessons that can help students develop healthy eating habits that support classroom success.
In addition, it is essential to make sure that students understand that salad bar choices are required as part of their meal when no vegetable or fruit is offered on the hot line. Using signs to illustrate and train the students about portion size and choice is also important. Menu boards as well as visual aids on or near the salad bar are helpful reminders as the students are waiting on line.
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