Bye-bye candy bars, hello salad bar at Hilton Head Island Elementary School for the Creative Arts

tbarton@beaufortgazette.comAugust 11, 2013 

Principal Gretchen Keefner holds tomatoes, peppers and okra picked from the Hilton Head Island Elementary School for the Creative Arts vegetable garden, visible in the background, on August 1. She said students will replant the garden at the start of the school year.

JAY KARR — Staff photo Buy Photo

Meet the new lunch line: Field greens, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, green peppers, carrots, shredded cheese and low-fat dressing.

Starting this school year, Hilton Head Island Elementary School for the Creative Arts joins a growing list of county schools opting for salad bars in their cafeterias to promote healthy food choices.

The good news: Students, surprisingly, like it.

"Student interest was immediate and has been wildly popular among all grade levels," said Jill McAden, principal at Hilton Head Island Elementary School. Her school installed a soup and salad bar last year.

District schools have worked in recent years to instill healthy eating habits in young students. Menus reflect lesson plans on food and nutrition, and nutrition facts are posted on cafeteria walls, McAden said.

Twenty-nine district schools were recognized in 2011 under the Healthier U.S. School Challenge -- a national initiative to promote nutrition and create healthy environments for children. The district implemented the program -- part of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign -- five years ago.

Breakfast and lunch menus were revised to promote healthier choices, eliminating fried foods. And some schools, including the School for the Creative Arts, have removed high-calorie items from vending machines -- ahead of new regulations released in June from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that require schools to offer healthier snacks.

Beginning in the 2014-15 school year, snacks served in school vending machines and a la carte lines will have to meet caloric and nutritional standards that will effectively eliminate candy bars and soda as options, according to the USDA. The new rules promote whole grains, fruits, vegetables and proteins.

School for the Creative Arts students also grow herbs and vegetables in a school garden alongside members of The Avid Gardeners, a garden club on Hilton Head.

Adding a salad bar was a logical next step -- especially when students are on board with the changes -- principal Gretchen Keefner said.

Students across the district have requested more salads, soups and healthy options. Although it might not be as popular as chicken nuggets, the spinach salad with grilled chicken is a top-seller, said Rebecca Hurst, area supervisor for Sodexo, the company that handles food service for the district.

"Students, especially elementary students, love to go in and pick their favorite vegetables and toppings. It's becoming more and more popular," Hurst said.

Academic research and school surveys have shown U.S. school children significantly increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables when given choices in a school fruit and vegetable salad bar, according to Keefner and the Let's Move campaign.

"When offered fruit and vegetable choices, children respond by trying new items, incorporating greater variety into their diets," according to the campaign.

Anecdotal evidence from district schools with salad bars supports that claim, according to Hurst and Keefner.

The White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity has endorsed schools using salad bars. The National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine in 2009 said schools need to add as many as two servings of fruits and vegetables daily to meals in order to meet students' basic health requirements.

Keefner hopes the salad bar shapes student behavior beyond the school lunch line into a lifetime of healthy eating.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.

Related content:

Beaufort County schools perform well in healthy schools challenge: July 5, 2011

Students warming up to healthier lunch options: Aug. 8, 2011

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