Two local farms are helping to bring healthy eating to students at Willard High School and Western Reserve through their association with the United Fresh Produce Foundation, one of four founding partners to raise funds for school salad bars.
Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools is a public health campaign to increase salad bars in schools across he country, according to Andrew Marshall, Director of Foundation Programs and Partnerships from the United Fresh Produce Association. The program also supports First Lady Michelle Obama’s initiative Let’s Move! to end childhood obesity.
D.R. Walcher Farms has donated a salad bar to Willard High School. Holthouse Farms made the donation to Western Reserve. Shannon King, food services director for the Willard City Schools submitted an application. The new unit holds an entire salad bar and moves on wheels. “When I see it in action,” noted Kirk Holthouse, “it’s pretty awesome. This can help children. We are always looking for the short term. Now we can look at the long term and the future.”
Any K-12 school that participates in the National School Lunch Program is eligible to receive a salad bar through the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools program. Since the program began in 2010, salad bars have been donated to 144 schools in Ohio. “What’s so great about this,” King pointed out, “is the versatility options. We can use it for a baked potato bar or we can use it to feature more things.” King said she used to prepare around 30 packaged salads for lunch at Willard High School. Now, with the salad bar option, that number has risen to 90 for the students who want the fresh vegetables and produce.
“We’re always looking for ways to tell our story and connect with consumers about where their food comes from,” noted Ken Holthouse of D.R. Walcher Farms. “And that’s especially true when it comes to our children. If we can educate our kids from a young age, create excitement around produce and give them and experience that allows them to make their own fruit and veggie choices from a school salad bar each day,” Holthouse added, “we’ll move the dial on produce consumption.”
When the salad bar was first used, King said regular head lettuce was being served. Trial and error has shown students like a heartier lettuce and will also use spinach for their salads. “I don’t know if there is a favorite,” she pointed out. “They like everything.”
When the district moves into the new school building in August, most items in the old school will not be transferred. King said, for that reason, she was cautious at first when she applied for the salad bar. The unit can be moved into the new building where there will be five food lines serving 1,400 students in 90 minutes. All students have the chance to choose from the salad bar. King has set up proportions so those on the free and reduced lunch schedule can have salad for lunch by meeting those federal guidelines. Choices do change, she noted, but students have spoken. There are banana peppers, olives and peas on the salad bar at Willard High School. “Kids are eating spinach and they like it.”
According to the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools program, research has shown children will significantly increase their choices of fruits and vegetables when offered a choice on a salad bar. The use of a salad bar gives a student the ability to make positive choices for lunch. With changing standards schools must meet for nutrition standards which require serving a greater amount of fruits and vegetables, the salad bar helps schools meet those standards. Ken Holthouse said the goal is to get salad bars in each school. “It’s not going to happen overnight,” he pointed out. “It’s going to take time. It gets kids to eat wholesome foods. If they are doing it at school, maybe they will do it at home.”
Both men said the hope is children will realize how good they feel when they eat properly, as opposed to eating processed food. Ken Holthouse and Kirk Holthouse had not seen a salad bar in actual use until they went to Willard High School. “It’s very nice,” Ken Holthouse noted. “The produce looks fresh and tasty. There’s nothing in there not to love.”
* Story originally published in the Willard Times-Junction, Monday, May 18, 2015. Editorial credit: Jane Ernsberger, Times-Junction News Editor.