A New Study Shows Effects of Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools

More than 1.7 million school-age children in the United States have better access to fresh fruits and vegetables thanks to new salad bars donated to schools through Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools. Recently, the program partnership released results of a survey of recipient school districts. Among the benefits of school salad bars reported by school food service directors were increased student access to fresh fruits and vegetables and increased student participation in the school lunch program.

The aim of Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools is to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables children eat by donating salad bars to schools across the country in support of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative. More than 3,400 salad bars have been donated to more than 1,000 school districts across the country since the initiative launched in 2010. In the spring of 2013, Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools partnered with the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition, an independent research institution, to complete a survey of school districts that received salad bars from the program. Of the 585 school districts that received the survey, 357 school districts from 46 states responded.

Some key findings of the survey:

  • About half (51%) of students in districts that have received a salad bar are eligible for federal free and reduced-price school meals, showing that salad bars donated by the program are benefiting low-income students.
  • Many recipient districts (57%) saw increased student participation in school lunch with the addition of salad bars, an important financial boost to support school meal programs.
  • A majority of districts (78%) reported purchasing more fruits and vegetables as a result of salad bar implementation.
  • School administrators, teachers, staff, and parents are supportive of school salad bars.
  • School districts use other health promotion activities along with salad bars, including classroom education (87%), taste testing (75%), special days or events focused on healthy food choices (70%), food service promotion (68%), and cooking classes (53%).

“School salad bars are gaining momentum from coast-to-coast,” said Ann Cooper, founder of the Food Family Farming Foundation, one of the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools partner organizations. “It’s gratifying to see kids, teachers, and parents getting excited about fresh fruits and vegetables.” In general, school salad bars are an effective way for schools to apply new federal school lunch nutrition standards, which require that a variety of fruits and vegetables are offered to students daily.

Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools’ founding partners, Food Family Farming Foundation, National Fruit and Vegetable Alliance, United Fresh Foundation and Whole Foods Market, have raised more than $8.4 million for Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools to cover the cost of salad bar equipment and delivery. In addition, an updated Let’s Move Salad Bars to School site was recently launched to provide a portal for school districts to submit applications to receive a salad bar and for information on how to include a salad bar in their school meal program. The site also tracks grant applications by state, while a blog and bimonthly e-newsletter showcase success stories from cafeterias across the country. Strong demand continues for school salad bars; there are currently more than 500 schools on the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools waiting list.

Diane Harris, PhD MPH Health Scientist, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention