Make a Rainbow! A Salad Bar for YOUR School.

by: Sunny Young

This week I interviewed students at Boulder Colorado’s Arapahoe Ridge High School to talk about how they create a rainbow from the salad bar’s offerings:

“Looking across the vast salad bar options was like looking at an artist’s palate,” one student remarked. On his plate he had piled on fresh mixed greens, corn, red bell peppers, shredded carrots, jicama, and some egg for protein- creating a true piece of work! “I’m trying to be a chef, so this stuff is fun for me,” the student said “I like that you can make it your own.” Another student nearby agreed with this statement and added, “The salad bar is really nice to have in addition to the main course.” His plate was a collection of his favorite vegetables, topped off with cottage cheese, chicken, eggs, and ranch dressing.  “It’s great that we get to have the choice!” he said.

“It just looks good and is nutritious.” This was the general statement around the cafeteria and everyone took pride in showing me their salad creations and telling me about why they chose what they chose.

By establishing a salad bar in your school, you are giving your students the opportunity to create, to pick from fresh fruits and veggies, and to learn in the cafeteria.   Choosing items for your salad bar will be based on what you can acquire: whether they come from your local vendors and farms, the USDA commodities program, or perhaps even your own garden!  Your salad bar will look different and taste different from any other schools, and should match the needs of your student population. This could mean anything from jalapeños to tofu, corn to beans, or local fruits such as oranges and apples- you can fill in the squares depending on your district and school’s means and regulations. 

The Great American Salad Bar Project

If you need a jumpstart for your salad bar project, you can apply here for a grant: to receive all the equipment you need to start! Also check out if you would like to donate to the project.   On we have free guidelines and resources for a salad bar start-up.  There you will find salad bar grids for all the seasons, a list of equipment you will need, and procedures for running a salad bar- all of which you can tailor to fit the needs of your school.

In the effort to make school meals better, you will run into challenges. Not everyone will be onboard, or think your cause is important enough; you might struggle to keep meals affordable so everyone can eat; and often children who don’t eat well at home have a much harder time adjusting to healthier meals at school. Here at, we understand these struggles, which is why we have worked so hard to bring you the free tools and resources found all throughout our website. Making change is tough, but if we all work together to achieve this common goal, we will not only improve school meals, but improve the lives of millions of children who eat in a cafeteria every day.

“I like to pick different stuff from the salad bar because I know that I am getting the nutrients my body needs” Arapahoe Ridge High School student answers the question: “Why do you make a salad at lunch?”