How to Develop and Promote Salad Bars in Primary Schools

As childhood nutrition takes center stage in our nation's capital, primary schools around the country have been focusing on improving the quality of food in their cafeterias. A number of schools in the U.S. are at the forefront of this movement, incorporating fresh salad bars into their menus every day. The salad bars not only provide guidance for healthy eating habits, but they can also help increase the students' fruit and vegetable consumption. Salad bars in primary schools are an excellent way to help young America get healthy and fit; however, establishing and maintaining a salad bar requires both key planning and execution.


When first planning to start a salad bar, there are a few major issues to consider.

  1. Where will we get the resources to start up and maintain the salad bar? Where will our produce come from? What will be offered?

    Getting started can be a financial challenge. Experts suggest contracting with a local farm and using seasonal produce, which is the most costeffective approach. You could also think about establishing a school garden to cultivate produce right there on campus. In addition, it is important to track your National School Lunch Program participation to make sure you are using your government commodities wisely.

    In terms of set-up, using self-serve salad bars is most economical. Offer foods that you know the students will like! A combination of four or five vegetable options, two or three fruit options, two or three protein options, and four or five different dressings works wells. Make sure to keep good records about how much food is purchased and how much is wasted so you do not over-order!

  2. Do we need any special prep equipment for cutting, larger refrigerators, or the physical salad bar itself? Will we have a centralized kitchen, or will each school staff prepare its own produce?

    Your school district may have a food service contractor who will have information about purchasing new equipment. Commercial-grade equipment can be very expensive. Schools may have to cover their bottom line by charging higher rates for goods in the beginning to pay for equipment. If your district has a flexible contract, you may also be able to contact outside vendors.

    Having a centralized kitchen is best if you're having trouble covering equipment cost. Just be mindful of added delivery costs.

  3. How will we price the salad bar? Will it be priced per pound? Should it be included on all lunches as a side item? Can it be offered to those on reduced and free lunches?

    Most schools choose to offer the salad bar as a side item included with all regular, reduced, and free lunches. Students are also able to purchase the salad bar meal only at a set price. Prices vary depending on grade level, with elementary school having the lowest cost and high school having the highest cost.

  4. How will we educate the staff about this change, as well as new sanitation standards for the salad bar?

    It is important to have employee in-service meetings outlining proper produce handling and salad bar upkeep. Make sure that school janitors and maintenance employees are involved in these talks since they are the ones who will be cleaning the areas and repairing the equipment.

    Prepackaged and ready-to-use produce is more sanitary, so using this option can cut down on labor and human exposure.

  5. What educational approaches will we use to promote the salad bar?

    If you want your salad bar to be successful, you must educate your students about healthful eating. If possible, have nutrition teachers who can provide age-appropriate, hands-on nutrition education. Frequent taste testings, in which students try new foods and decide what the school should offer, are popular. Also, colorful fruit and vegetable posters, literature, and special theme-meal days can help keep interest.

Laina Fullum, Nutrition Department Superior of Columbia Public Schools in Missouri, has had a salad bar in her school district for many years now and helped with the suggestions above. When starting, she advises a slow integration process. Pilot a salad bar in one or two schools to note challenges and develop corrective action plans that can be carried over to future cafeterias.


It is essential that both the cafeteria personnel and the school faculty support the program's goals and expectations. Ann Cooper, Director of Nutrition Services at Boulder Public Schools, recommends educating your staff on the importance of fruit and vegetable consumption and outlining how it can help improve the students' well-being. Your cafeteria workers will be the on-site promoters of the salad bars.

Once your school is on board, it's time to present your idea to the community. Most parents welcome the idea of a salad bar. The possibility that their children will be offered more produce at lunch time is appealing. However, most parents have concerns about the sanitation of the produce and the salad bar area. It is imperative that you outline the sanitation standards you have in place for your salad bar and explain how your staff has been trained in these procedures.

After the school and parents back your program, the next step is the most fun! Now, you get to promote the salad bar to your students. Be as creative as possible! Educate, engage, and have students participate in some activities related to fruit and vegetable consumption. Then, watch the kids gobble down their greens!


  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Oranges
  • Sliced Pears
  • Strawberries
  • Canned Items
  • Purées
  • Baby Carrots
  • Broccoli
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Cucumber Slices
  • Onions
  • Romaine/Spinach Mix
  • Baby Corn
  • Beets
  • Celery Sticks
  • Radishes
  • Chickpeas
  • Hummus
  • Kidney Beans
  • Peanut Butter
  • Cottage Cheese


Parents are key players in establishing school salad bars. Below are a few tips on how to help get the word out.

  • Talk to other parents about the importance of providing healthful foods in schools. By gaining others' support, you can become more effective.

  • Draft a petition outlining the need for more healthful options in the cafeteria and have every interested parent, grandparent, caregiver, etc., sign it. Present this to your child's school board, PTA, and nutrition services personnel.

  • Contact local farms, grocers, or businesses that may be interested in supporting salad bars in your school area. Have them promote your idea in their stores, news circulars, and flyers. Ask them to host taste- testing events where they promote healthful foods, and have children in your area participate.

  • Talk directly to the school district's superintendent. Outline the need for more healthful options in cafeterias, and show the support of others in your community.

  • Remember that change can be hard, but with perseverance and a can-do attitude, you can make a difference in the health of your children—and their friends, too!


Annie's Naturals
  • Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette (Organic)
  • Tuscany Italian
Newman's Own
  • Balsamic Vinaigrette
  • Lighten Up Italian
  • Lighten Up Raspberry & Walnut
  • Lighten Up Low-Fat Sesame Ginger
  • French
  • Herbs De Provence Vinaigrette
  • Miso Ginger Vinaigrette
  • Tarragon Dijon Vinaigrette


Salad bars in schools help promote good eating habits that stay with students long after the school day ends. Schools that already have salad bars agree that offering fresh produce in their cafeterias is one of the best changes they ever made for their students. As Laina Fullum states, "The salad bars offer an indirect bargain for our students. We pay more now to get better results later."

If you're thinking about getting a salad bar in your school, make sure to consider all aspects of planning and promoting. Then, JUST DO IT!