COLUMBUS, Neb. — Fourth-grader Keagan Reeves and a group of his Shell Creek Elementary School classmates were eager to discuss their lunches Tuesday afternoon.
There were no complaints about the main meals from those seated in the cafeteria, but the excitement was generated by a new addition that gives the students more variety and more say in what ends up on their trays.
And it’s healthy, too.
The Columbus Telegram reports that about two weeks ago, Lakeview Community Schools added salad bars at Shell Creek and Platte Center elementary schools. The buffets — called fruit and vegetable bars because of the offerings — are stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables that can be selected by students to go along with the main meal.
On Tuesday, eight different items accompanied the regular lunch of rotini and meat sauce, sliced peaches and breadsticks.
“It’s really good,” Reeves said of the salad bar, where he selected a broccoli salad and apple.
Across the table, fourth-grader Cassie Rathbone had applesauce and carrot sticks with her meal. She said getting to choose her own fruits and vegetables is the best part of the salad bar.
Allowing students to pick foods they enjoy — instead of taking the only fruit or vegetable offered — was part of the reason the school district added the buffets, according to Food Services Manager Jenny Sloup.
Sloup said the district has reduced the amount of wasted food since the salad bars were introduced.
“It’s been a really positive thing for us,” she said.
Plus, the equipment itself came at no cost to the district.
Lakeview was the first Nebraska school district to apply for a grant through the Let’s Move! Salad Bars 2 Schools initiative, Sloup said. The grants, supported by donations from companies and organizations, are awarded as part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s ongoing effort to raise healthier children.
Sloup said the salad bars also help Lakeview meet stricter U.S. Department of Agriculture requirements for school lunches.
The district has offered a salad bar for students and staff at the junior/senior high school for about two years, when the meal program was overhauled following a period of diner dissatisfaction.
Principal John Mlinar believes the addition at Shell Creek has been a success so far.
“Everybody is pretty excited about it,” said Mlinar, adding that most students there prefer the fresh selections over canned items.
The same is true at Platte Center Elementary School.
Principal Daryl Schrunk has been surprised to see students there eating cucumbers, tomatoes, cauliflower and other fresh vegetables.
“They seem to be cleaning their plates better since they are choosing what they wish to eat,” said Schrunk, who believes the change will lead to more staff members eating the district-prepared meals as well.
The cost of stocking the salad bars will come from the district’s food budget, something the board of education has been monitoring closely over the past couple of years as it strives to keep the lunch program financially self-supporting.
Lunch prices increased by 25 cents over the previous two school years to cover the rising cost of food, support the improved lunch program and meet the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.
Currently, student lunches cost $2.25 at the elementary schools and $2.35 at the junior/senior high school.
It may be too early to determine the financial effects of the new salad bars, but one Shell Creek student considers the current price to be a better deal since the addition.
“We get more food on the plate, and we get to eat more vegetables and fruits,” said fourth-grader John Phelps.