Grants make salad bars available to school districts across the U.S.

One central Indiana school district is ensuring all 8,200 of its students are offered plenty of fresh produce options, daily.

BROWNSBURG, Ind. (WISH) – September is More Matters Month – a push from the produce industry to encourage kids and adults to eat more fruits and vegetables. One central Indiana school district is ensuring all 8,200 of its students are offered plenty of fresh produce options, daily.

Brownsburg Community School Corporation is the only major district in central Indiana to apply for and receive a grant that provides salad bars free of charge for each of its school buildings. The Let’s Move Salad Bars 2 Schools program launched in 2010 and has granted salad bars to more than 4,100 schools, nationwide.

A food service worker at Brownsburg West Middle School displays pans of fresh vegetables into the salad bar.
A food service worker at Brownsburg West Middle School displays pans of fresh vegetables in the salad bar.

“Without the grant, we wouldn’t have been able to do this program,” says Sue Threlkeld, Assistant Director of Food Services for Brownsburg Schools. “I think this program has become very important to our students to try new things.”

The Salad Bars 2 Schools grant provides a complete salad bar package including the Cambro brand bar, the pans, pan covers, tongs and ice packs to keep the items chilled throughout the lunch service. Schools are then responsible for providing the produce. Each of the salad bars costs about $3,000. For a district like Brownsburg with 10 schools, the grant’s value is about $30,000.

“Kids are like us, they eat with their eyes first and if we can create an attractive display every day as they go through the lunch line, we’re going to have more kids come through the line and have their fruits and vegetables,” says Andrew Marshall, Director of foundation programs and partnerships for the United Fresh Produce Association, one of the four founding members of the Salad Bars 2 Schools grant program.

A food service worker slices watermelon as a fresh fruit option at Brownsburg West Middle School.
A food service worker slices watermelon as a fresh fruit option at Brownsburg West Middle School.

In 2010, Congress passed the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act which revamped the rules on what could be offered to kids at school lunch time. It also increased the amount and variety of vegetables offered to kids each day.

In a week’s time, districts are required to offer at least one red or orange vegetable, leafy greens, a starch and legumes – among other things. The salad bar allows schools to fulfill those weekly requirements in one day’s time.

According to the website for Let’s Move Salad Bars 2 Schools, there are three local districts that have applied for and received 100 percent funding for the grant: Brownsburg Schools, Monroe-Gregg Schools and Northwestern Consolidated Schools – but Brownsburg is the largest. The website shows Carmel Clay Schools has applied but is waiting for the salad bars to be funded.

“We have a waiting list of about 300 schools right now, but it’s a very dynamic list in the sense that schools are always being funded as they’re applying,” says Marshall.

How to apply for the grant

A school district’s Food Service Director must submit an application – which consists of about 30 questions assessing the district’s readiness to begin implementing a salad bar. The grant facilitators are consistently looking for funding within the coalition of the United Fresh Produce Association, Whole Foods Market, Chef Ann Foundation and the National Fruit and Vegetable Alliance. Funding is not secured until after an application has been approved.

Hundreds of middle school students fill the lunch room at Brownsburg West Middle School.
Hundreds of middle school students fill the lunch room at Brownsburg West Middle School.

The website for the grant program says to expect funding to come within 12-14 months from the date of an approved application. Threlkeld says Brownsburg received its salad bars within six months.

For parents who are interested in having salad bars offered in their students’ school, the grant program provides a sample letter to the school district and other links to information on its website. Find it by clicking here.

“At the end of the day what is this program all about – it’s about ‘how do we increase children’s access to more fresh fruits and vegetables,’” says Marshall.

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