salad revolution at freedom high school, florida

Salad Revolution At Freedom High School, Florida

Mon 28 Feb 2011

Story by Mary Kathryn Rains
 

As the resident HealthCorps Coordinator at Freedom High School in Tampa, FL, I educate students about nutrition, fitness, physical health, and mental resiliency.

HealthCorps is a non-profit organization founded by Dr. Mehmet Oz dedicated towards fighting childhood obesity and teaching students how to be mentally and physically fit. The program currently reaches 41 high schools across 11 states.

I am serving my second year at Freedom High School, and my focus has been providing students with access to healthy resources, especially concerning food. Some of the other resources include weekly after school exercise clubs, healthy cooking programs, and an annual health fair.

I firmly believe that food dictates our moods, performance, and overall well-being. Unfortunately, the students have few options for smart snacking during the school day, so I arranged for healthier vending machines to be placed on campus including items such as trail mixes and granola bars. The school administration and I worked with the contracted vending company to place healthier items in 2 new machines. I received such positive feedback from students that I looked into working with the school lunch program.

I began asking students for their input as far as what they would like to eat for lunch, and salads kept coming back as the most common response. From a nutritional standpoint, salads make great lunches because they are easy ways to consume multiple servings of vegetables.

I approached Nutrition Services with the idea of integrating a salad bar into the lunch program, and with the help of our Nutrition Services Manager, Nutrition Services Director, Dietitian, Culinary teacher, and local Chef, we created a salad bar project called “Field of Greens” which will serve as a pilot project, possibly expanding into other schools in Hillsborough County.

Rather than installing the typical “serve yourself” salad bar, we decided to convert 2 lines into behind-the-counter salad stations where the students can watch their salads assembled on the spot. For the price of a reimbursable school meal, the students select 5 toppings, a salad dressing, two sides, and a drink on an order form and hand their request to the cafeteria staff for preparation.

The toppings include a wide variety of meat, vegetables, fruit and salad dressings with one popular combination being grilled chicken, banana peppers, grape tomatoes, homemade croutons, cucumbers, and lite ranch dressing.

“Field of Greens” not only enhances the nutritional value of school lunch, but it also provides a unique outlet for our culinary students. One of the major roadblocks we hit along the way was finding enough hands to prepare the produce and to assemble the salads. The cafeteria serves Freedom’s 2200 students plus Liberty Middle School next door, so the staff has a packed schedule.

We solved the problem by merging the project with the culinary classes and providing the students with hands on experience in a commercial kitchen. During their culinary class, students work side by side with the cafeteria staff chopping veggies and prepping the salad bar. What better way to practice knife skills, learn about food safety, and adjust to the fast paced nature of a kitchen!

Another group of culinary students helps to assemble the salads during the lunch hour. The act of serving their peers empowers them as future chefs and leaders. They also serve as liaisons between the students and cafeteria staff, often relaying new ideas for food items or ways to improve upon the project.

Let’s just say, we have started a Salad Revolution at Freedom High School! Every day, students line up for their made-to-order salads, deliberating with their friends about which toppings they will pick today. I will admit, on the first day I was a bit nervous about how many students would actually try out the new lines.

Believe it or not, we actually ran out of most items because we had such a massive turnout. Some students who have never participated in the school lunch program now regularly wait in line for their bowl of greens. I am constantly amazed by the excitement on students’ faces as they rush to their tables to indulge in their vegetable creations.

Overall, the project continues to be a huge success in our school community. The preparation and serving process can be quite time consuming, and the project has undoubtedly added more work to the cafeteria staff’s daily routine. Even with the help of the culinary students, it is still is large undertaking that is very different from most prep work in school cafeterias. However, I think we can all agree that the benefits of the project greatly outweigh the struggles.

Our students are making a statement to the world that they want vegetables and will eat something besides French fries smothered in ketchup. As health educators, we have to be the ones who identify healthy resources and introduce them to the students. Start small, and over time, students will want to expand their palates and to learn more about their food. Today, a student tries a new salad topping. Tomorrow, a student becomes a food activist for life.

About the author: Mary Kathryn Rains is the HealthCorps Coordinator at Freedom High School in Tampa, Florida

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