FCPS renews effort to bring salad bars to local elementary schools

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The opening of the first FCPS salad bar in 2016 (Credit: Twitter/Ryan McElveen)

In coming months, Fairfax County Public Schools’ (FCPS) Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) will gradually restore salad bars at elementary schools that offered them prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and then begin adding salad bars at the remaining elementary schools, according to an FCPS spokesperson.

FNS had kicked off the initiative back in 2016, partnering with Real Food for Kids™ to implement a five-year plan to bring salad bars to all FCPS elementary schools by 2021. By the time that schools shut down due to COVID in March 2020, salad bars had been installed at 101  elementary schools, including the vast majority of schools around the Richmond Highway corridor.

According to a list from Real Food for Kids, Bucknell Elementary in Groveton is one of the first two FCPS schools scheduled to have its salad bar reopened Jan. 18. The list also cites Hollin Meadows, Groveton, Mount Eagle, Lorton Station, Riverside, Mount Vernon Woods, Woodley Hills and Washington Mill as part of the initial group of 36 Title I elementary schools tentatively slated for salad bar reopenings this month.

FCPS schools currently lacking salad bar infrastructure include Hybla Valley and Woodlawn, as well as 39 other schools, according to the “Fresh Food in FCPS” report delivered in November 2022 from Superintendent Michelle Reid to the Fairfax County School Board.

At the Dec. 1 meeting of the school board, Braddock District Representative Megan McLaughlin expressed concern about the delay in reinstating the school system’s salad bars, given the past investment put into them and other healthy food programs.

“We can’t use the pandemic as an excuse anymore,” said McLaughlin. “Our salad bars have got to be like a light switch – flip them on and get them working.”

One potential challenge to the timely reopening or new establishment of salad bars is the ongoing staffing shortage. According to the superintendent’s report, hands-on training is necessary for both FNS staff and students to operate or use salad bars. The school system’s pre-pandemic requirement for a staff member to provide full-time oversight of the salad bar during the lunch hour may be changing, however. Under a newly drafted plan from FNS, staff would gain “more flexibility” with salad bar oversight.

A pre-pandemic student salad bar training video (Credit: FCPS Get2Green)

Specific food offerings also may be changing this year. FNS’ plans for a redesigned salad bar focus on “eliminating unnecessary servings of processed foods while encouraging students to develop a palate for fruits and vegetables in all forms while selecting their meals throughout the serving line.” Among other things, that means making fruits and vegetables available beyond the salad bar; allowing for portion control with costly items like fresh fruit; making more frozen, canned and dried produce available; and reintroducing some student favorites like potato products.

Providing students with fresh produce will continue to be a priority under other FCPS healthy food programs. According to the superintendent’s report, Hybla Valley, Mount Vernon Woods and Woodley Hills are three of the 13 total FCPS elementary schools that receive no-cost fresh fruits and vegetables for students under the nationwide Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. 

Additionally, FNS is continuing to partner with FCPS’ Get2Green program and building community relationships in support of its Garden to Cafeteria program, which promotes the use of school garden-grown produce in cafeterias. The Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture, located at 9000 Richmond Highway, helped a few local schools start their Garden to Cafeteria pilot programs a few years ago; however, the pandemic put a halt to their spring 2020 rollout, according to Arcadia’s Juan-Pablo Echeverria.

Besides rebooting the school system’s salad bar program for elementary schools, FNS is working on a phased approach for installing salad bars at middle schools and high schools in Fairfax County, said an FCPS spokesperson.

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