Rodriguez Elementary students in Seguin ISD test out their school's new salad bar. Photo courtesy of H-E-B.

Remember the days of going through the lunch line in the school cafeteria? It never took long to memorize what the menu would be each week.

In recent years, schools have made big improvements in the health and diversity of cafeteria offerings, driven in part by federal laws and in equal measure by growing awareness of the obesity crisis in America, and parents seeking more wholesome options.

To help schools along, the United Fresh Start Foundation started the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools initiative, which has facilitated the donation of salad bars to more than 4,100 schools nationwide, benefitting nearly 3 million children every school day. Recently, seven more schools joined the salad bar ranks.

Rodriguez Elementary students in Seguin ISD test out their school's new salad bar. Photo courtesy of H-E-B.
Rodriguez Elementary students in Seguin ISD test out their school’s new salad bar. Photo courtesy of H-E-B.

H-E-B joined forces with United Fresh and Dole to bring salad bars to all seven elementary schools in Seguin Independent School District, a district where 69% of students qualify for free and reduced lunch.

In September, students joined leadership from H-E-B, Dole, United Fresh and Seguin ISD for a ribbon cutting at Rodriguez Elementary to celebrate the new self-serve salad bars. Students were then able to dig in to a rainbow of fresh fruits and vegetables.

“Investing in our children has the power to change the way future generations see the importance of health and wellness in their lives,” said Hugh Topper, group vice president of fresh for H-E-B. “We believe we have a responsibility to take leadership in improving the health of our communities.”

Bil Goldfield, Dole’s director of corporate communications, said it’s important to start the nutrition conversation as early in childhood as possible, and to offer tangible healthy alternatives.

“By offering permanent salad bars stocked with fresh fruit and vegetables, we are hopefully establishing healthier eating habits that will last a lifetime,” Goldfield said.

Rodriguez Elementary students in Seguin ISD test out their school's new salad bar. Photo courtesy of H-E-B.
Rodriguez Elementary students in Seguin ISD test out their school’s new salad bar. Photo courtesy of H-E-B.

Seguin ISD and its food service vendor, Chartwells, have pledged to continually stock the salad bars with fresh produce options, ensuring that children get exposure to fruits and vegetables on a daily basis. H-E-B registered dietitians will also help educate students in the classroom and in H-E-B stores about ways to make eating more fruits and vegetables easy, fun and delicious.

According to a recent report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the overall national consumption of produce has declined by 7% over the past five years.

To help combat this nationwide trend, new USDA nutrition standards for school lunch require schools to increase the amount and variety of fruits and vegetable served to students each day, and salad bars are the easiest way for schools to meet these requirements.

Research and experience in schools across the country demonstrate that children significantly increase their fruit and vegetable consumption when given a variety of choices in a school salad bar. When offered multiple fruit and vegetable choices, children respond by incorporating greater variety and increasing their overall consumption.

Additionally, Rodriguez Elementary School is a site for the Sow Healthy Intergenerational Garden initiative that gets children out of the classroom and into the garden. Sow Healthy brings together students and seniors in the community to tend and harvest the crops, side-by-side. The program provides another opportunity of ensuring children are exposed to fruits and vegetables in a fun and tangible way.

“With one-third of the nation’s children either overweight or obese, we’ve got to look at new ways to encourage healthier eating,” Goldfield said.

Judging by the smiles on the faces of the children at Rodriguez Elementary, the salad bars are a step in the right direction.

Rodriguez Elementary students in Seguin ISD test out their school's new salad bar. Photo courtesy of H-E-B.
Rodriguez Elementary students in Seguin ISD test out their school’s new salad bar. Photo courtesy of H-E-B.

*Top image: Rodriguez Elementary students in Seguin ISD test out their school’s new salad bar. Photo courtesy of H-E-B.

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Stacy Bates

Stacy Bates, MS, RDN, LD, CDE, is an H-E-B registered dietitian and the nutrition services program manager.