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What I’m Thankful For: Salad Bars in Every School: Healthy Food For All Kids!

Posted Nov 30 2010 11:54am

By: Chef Ann Cooper


I had the honor of spending Monday the 22nd in Miami at Riverside Elementary School with numerous school food advocates to announce the implementation of our latest collaboration: Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools . With the goal to provide at least 6,000 salad bars to schools in the next three years, a new public-private partnership has launched Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools (LMSB2S), a grassroots public health collaboration working in concert with First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative. The partners share a vision to significantly increase salad bars in schools across the country until every child has the choice of healthy fruits and vegetables every day at school. The initiative was announced by the Salad Bars to Schools Coalition to support the First Lady’s Lets Move! initiative.

For the past year Beth Collins and I have worked hard on The Lunch Box’s project; The Great American Salad Bar Project (GASP) with our partner Whole Food’s Market .  With the help of Whole Food’s shoppers we raised money to donate over 550 salad bars for schools across the country and I’m thankful for all of the support we received from Whole Foods and their shoppers for this project.

We have become founding partners of this new initiative, whose partners include: National Fruit and Vegetable Alliance (NFVA) , United Fresh Produce Association Foundation (UFF ) and Food Family Farming Foundation (F3) .  I am so thankful for all of the hard work in making this come to fruition and which resulted in Michelle Obama’s support of our project as we all support Let’s Move.  Sam Kass, opening the door for the first lady in the picture above was a constant supporter of LMSB2S and deserves much credit in making it a reality.  Another big shout out goes to Giveo , a local software company that provides a powerful cause-marketing platform utilizing social media ultimately enabling the localization of social purpose to more people, through the empowerment of technology.  Giveo built both the platform that runs the GASP site as well as and the LMSB2S’s site.  The Giveo team worked tirelessly to have the platform up and running before the First lady’s announcement and the resulting platform will help enable us to successfully reach our goal of donating 6,000 salad bars in 36 months.

So back to the day at Riverside Elementary, where Mrs. Obama was introduced and where she immediately launched into a discussion about obesity and healthy food in schools.  She thanked all of the groups behind Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools and then spoke directly to the students telling them why healthy eating was so important.  She went on to say that salad bars in schools are an important part of healthy school meals and should be available to all students in all schools.

After her opening remarks, the First Lady introduced two local chefs, who are part of Chef’s Move to Schools and who helped all of these elementary students to self-serve themselves from the short (30” tall Cambro NSF approved) salad bar .  In my mind this was really powerful since the National Science Foundation has guidelines that are backed up by the USDA (which is part of the NFVA), which state that self-serve salad bars should not be allowed in elementary schools unless the food is pre-packaged.   It was wonderful to hear Mrs. Obama supporting the students serving themselves!

As the chefs were helping the kids make good choices from the salad bar, which was stocked full of fresh vegetables (most of which were local) Mrs. Obama went around the cafeteria, stopping at every table talking with the kids about eating healthy.  The tables were festooned with fresh vegetables and the First Lady went around getting the kids to try the tomatoes, squash and other veggies.

During the event I also “worked the crowd” talking to the kids about fruits and vegetables.  I truly believe that teaching kids about the symbiotic relationship between healthy earth, healthy food and healthy kids will help them to have a healthy life and may even save the planet along the way.  Helping schools segue their traditionally highly processed unhealthy offerings to cooked from scratch food that is based on fresh fruit, fresh veggies, whole grains and healthy protein is the core work of our website The Lunch Box and getting every school in the country to have a salad bar with healthy choices is just one more way we can help save our children’s health!

The culmination of the event was the kids eating salad!  Every single one of these 5th graders self-served themselves a healthy lunch from the salad bar and more importantly they ate and enjoyed the offerings.  The fears that some school district’s expound that they’ll be so much waste, that it’s too hard to maintain a salad bar, that it’s unsanitary, that it will breed germs or that kids can’t make healthy choices are all for not.  These elementary schools kids were eating from a school salad bar for the very first time and I watched as they enjoyed.  Girls and boys alike, sitting eating and enjoying fresh fruits and vegetables – I’m happy to say that perhaps my days as a Renegade Lunch Lady are coming to an end – as these types of ideas are becoming mainstream.

As we were leaving the event, really on “cloud 9,” I happened upon some of the younger kids in their school garden – they were so amazingly cute and it reminded me of yet one more powerful statement that the First Lady made.  She told the children of Riverside that one of the reasons that their school was “picked” to receive the very first salad bar, was because of their school garden and that children should be able to grow the food in their school gardens and then eat it in their cafeterias and from their salad bars.  There are numerous health departments around the country who say that their policies prohibit this practice of allowing kids to eat the food that they grow in their gardens. I hope Mrs. Obama’s words help us move beyond these types of unnecessary rules and regulations.

As I finish this blog I’m sitting by the fire in the home of friends of many years and I’m thinking of all of the people and institutions that I’m thankful for.  I’m so thankful for all of the people the people and foundations that have supported our work and the work of making healthy school food a reality.  People like Beth Collins, Kate Adamick and her Cook For America, Sylvia Tawse and FIG, Emily Friedberg and Giveo, Mara Fleishman and Nona Evans and Whole Foods Market; and foundations like Orfalea, Compton, Kellogg, Colorado Health and Children’s Health; and companies like Fullbloom Baking Company, Barbara’s Bakery and Chipotle Grill.

Finally I want to challenge all of us to just do one thing to make this world a better place for our children.  Just do one thing to make healthier school food a reality for every child in America.  Billy Shore with Share Our Strength says that there are over 1.1 million hungry kids every day in our country.  Hungry kids can’t think and malnourished kids can’t learn!  It should be a birthright in our country that every child, every day has healthy and delicious food in school – so they can be the best they can be – and when they get there – we as a nation will have so much to be thankful for.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one last thing that that the First Lady reminded us, which is that Congress has yet to pass Child Nutrition Reauthorization.  The bill pending in Congress is far from perfect, but we really must pass the bill.  It is truly ridiculous that over a year late, and with additional funding of six cents or less, that our elected officials cannot come together to pass a bill that will help to promote healthy food for all kids.

Finally, one of the most important things that you can do is to join us and support our work in schools at
The Lunch Box and Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools – help make healthy school food a reality for all children.  Just do one thing and do it today!

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