Assessment and Planning

Overview

Once a school district establishes the goal of incorporating salad bars into their school lunch program it is necessary to perform assessment and planning of each school’s assets and challenges for implementation. That exercise must be followed by an assessment of the department and district-wide assets and challenges. Planning for the large and small details of salad bar implementation ensures that once added, salad bars will be a permanent fixture of your school dining landscape.

To start, we’ve created a Salad Bar Site Assessment Tool to help you determine your district’s requirements for salad bar implementation. The assessment takes into account: site data, district wide impact areas, budget planning, and timeline action checklists.

Key data collection for each school includes:

  • School administration details
  • Grades served
  • Meal period details
  • Average daily participation
  • Other programs (e.g., breakfast in the classroom or fresh fruit and vegetable program)
  • Site type (satellite, base, or production kitchen location)
  • Staffing details
  • Kitchen, service area, and cafeteria layout
  • Delivery access
  • Current smallwares inventory
  • Current refrigeration and storage assets

The larger, system-wide operations considerations for planning include:

  • Who is the district’s primary produce supplier?
  • How frequently is produce delivered?
  • Is it delivered directly to the site or to a central facility?
  • How are sites ordering produce now?
  • Is there significant aged inventory of canned or frozen vegetables that needs to be used?
  • What is the level of expertise of the team with regard to handling produce?
  • Do you currently budget time for staff training and development?
  • Does your department have a HACCP plan and are your standard operating procedures reviewed and updated annually?
  • Is there a minimum of one person at each school site who has a current Serve Safe manager’s certification?
  • Do you have an active relationship with your local health authority?
  • Do you have support from administration, teachers, and staff for salad bar implementation?
  • Are parents on your side? Can the food service department count on parents to support salad bars by having their children eat school lunch more frequently?

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Evaluating Labor Requirements

It is common for districts to presume that salad bars will require more labor than their current model, but this cannot be ascertained without a critical analysis of the current site’s labor hours. Once assessed, districts often find that there are adequate hours and people, and that satisfying salad bar labor requirements can be achieved by shifting the tasks and times of the existing team.

We also recommend that the salad bar replace hot-line service that serves fruit and vegetables. Likewise, the salad bar can replace the commonly-used cupping/packaging of fruits, salads, or other vegetables that are part of many menu plans prior to use of a salad bar. As we will discuss later in this guide, a key factor in cost containment is shifting the menu model to rely on the salad bar to fulfill the fruit and vegetable requirements. When assessing the labor component, the following considerations are used to determine a course of action:

  • Labor hours assigned compared to labor hours worked (use Hours Assigned to Hours Worked Worksheet to calculate)
  • Skill sets of existing site teams
  • Current site team efficiency
  • Current site productivity (use Meals Per Labor Hour Worksheet to calculate)
  • Team motivation…Is the food service staff excited to implement?
  • Existing menu assumptions (i.e., what components of the menu will the salad bar replace versus implementing salad bar as an addition to current options?)
  • The salad bar menu and layout (i.e., variety and type)
  • Average daily participation at site--sheer volume of production needs versus current (use Simple Meal Count Average Daily Participation Worksheet to calculate)
  • Food preparation models (e.g., product prep at sites, direct delivery of cut product from production kitchens, direct delivery of either pre-cut or uncut product from vendors, etc.)

Budget: Up-front Investment

Given the wide variety of facilities that can be found in a single school district, gathering pertinent data about each location is critical to the planning process. The Salad Bar Site Assessment Tool includes a budgeting worksheet to help aggregate the up-front expenses in one document and to assist districts in presenting a comprehensive plan to key decision makers. Many districts use a combination of purchasing, equipment donations, and equipment repurposing in order to accomplish the goal of incorporating salad bars in every school. The primary areas of investment are:

  • Electricity
  • Point-of-Sale mitigation
  • Refrigeration
  • Salad bar units
  • Sinks/plumbing
  • Staff training

The Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools grant program is available to all school districts. We strongly recommend that districts submit an application. The process is easy and could result in funding one or all of the bars required for your district. School districts have also acquired funding through state-based projects, local benefactors, Fuel up to Play 60 grants, and many funding sources.  

Salad Bar Equipment Selection

These are examples of the most common salad bar equipment selection solutions:

Regular Service Line with Cold Wells

Some schools may have mechanically-cooled wells that are part of their current service line. If the wells also have sneeze guards and are designed to allow for self-service, it may be possible to adapt your current line to include a salad bar. If the line has cold wells without a sneeze guard, or the guard restricts self-service, it is possible to add a sneeze guard or replace it with one that allows self-service. If your line does not have cold wells but includes a long stainless counter of six feet or more, the counter can be cut out so that a mechanical unit can be retrofitted there (provided that adequate electrical power is available or able to be installed). Additionally, if the current line is newer and modular (meaning it can move) with adequate space and power, a cold well module could be integrated in the layout of the servery.

  • Pros: No up-front costs if a school already owns this type of equipment. Gives site personnel control during service. Staff can assist younger children from the service line. Can be the best option in small confined service areas where a stand-alone bar is not a possibility.
  • Cons: Creates slower lunch lines. Often too high for K-2 students who either cannot reach the product or reach below the sneeze guard which is unacceptable from a food safety perspective. As a solution, these younger grades can be served by staff or an accompanying adult.

Built-in refrigerated salad bar

Freestanding, Mobile-Insulated Salad Bars

This is by far the least expensive and most frequently chosen option. The newest versions of these bars, offered in both four-well and five-well configurations, compress easily for moving through doorways, come in heights which are acceptable for elementary self-service, have sneeze guards that meet government requirements, and can hold temperatures of 41 degrees and below for four hours. This improved cold holding allows for using temperature as a Public Health Control (PHC). (See Cambro's Temperature Retention Test Results.) The mobility of these bars allows for flexible dining room layouts, which is helpful when considering customer flow through the line. The bars can also multi-task for other meal periods, for example hallway placement for Grab 'n Go breakfast pick up.

  • Pros: Fully mobile. Inexpensive. Easy to maintain. May be used as either one- or two-sided.
  • Cons: Requires a freezer to freeze buffet chiller packs, which may not be permitted by some health departments.

Mobile insulated food bar

Table Top Insulated Salad Bars

These are similar to mobile salad bars. The main difference is that they require a table.

  • Pros: Less expensive and more compact than a wheeled unit. Can be used as either one- or two-sided.
  • Cons: Does not store well. Height is an issue so tables must be adjustable to attain the appropriate height. 

Table top salad bar using chill packs

Freestanding, Mobile, Mechanically Cooled Salad Bars

Very similar to the freestanding insulated salad bars, the mechanically cooled bars offer the same ability to have two-sided service.

  • Pros: Hold temperature. Easy to clean. Do not require a freezer to keep unit cold.
  • Cons: Most expensive mobile option. Not as compact as mobile units. Fewer location choices due to electrical needs. Requires floor plug to remove tripping hazards. Some locations will require electrical work to use. Fewer models have height options.

Mobile electric salad bar

Regulations

Federal

“USDA encourages the use of salad bars in the school meal programs. We encourage school food authorities (SFAs) to incorporate salad bars into their school food service operations when possible, and to explore other creative options when salad bars are not an option.”  

As anyone who works in the school food industry knows, regulations and compliance issues are abundant. The most recent USDA Memo “Salad Bars in the National School Lunch Program” from March 2013 clarifies earlier salad bar guidance on key areas of salad bar use including: portion size, salad bar location, POS placement, nutrient analysis, and food safety with regard to serving elementary students. They also acknowledge that state agencies may authorize alternatives to the federal guidance, particularly with regard to placement of the POS.

Local Jurisdictions

You’ll want to engage your local health authority when considering implementing salad bars. Most school districts have very active relationships with their local authorities. By working with them to assure approval, you can fine-tune any issues that may be of concern prior to implementation. Most commonly, you will need to provide a complete salad bar operational plan based on Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point principles (HACCP). In some cases, only a kitchen equipment plan update will be required.

Salad bars require the handling of fresh foods, many of which are considered PHFs (potentially hazardous foods) like cut tomatoes, melon, or lettuce, as well as protein sources such as chicken, cottage cheese, eggs, and hummus. With proper planning in partnership with local health authorities, any school can safely operate a self-service salad bar.

Developing Standard Operating Procedures

Developing Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) is essential to a district’s success. SOPs can be customized to fit various physical plants and labor models, but the overall goals are the same: to operate the bar efficiently and safely. (See a sample of Salad Bar Standard Operating Procedures.) Salad bar operating plans should be developed for central kitchen and/or satellite or stand-alone kitchens as applicable. Procedures should include guidelines for purchasing, receiving, storing, rinsing, processing, holding, transporting, temperature logging, and serving of fresh produce, with specific guidelines for the handling of temperature controlled for safety (TCS) and potentially hazardous foods (PHF) as shown in the illustration below. Key features of a salad bar SOP include:

  • Consistent use of temp logs (see sample of a Temperature Log)
  • Chilling pans that are used on the bar
  • Having plenty of utensil and ingredient back-ups
  • Setting up a pattern of rotating out products through meal periods

Staff as well as any volunteers or regular lunchroom supervisors (such as vice principals, aides, or teachers) are important to the overall follow through of Salad Bar Procedures. Educating them on proper use of the salad bar is critical to the long-term success of the program. Displaying marketing Posters and Signs to help educate students is extremely helpful when used in unison with a trained support team. Community acceptance of the salad bar will happen once everyone experiences the students’ excitement and delight in having more fresh food choices.

Public health control flow chart from “SAFE Salad Bars in Schools” by Washington Farm to School

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From the Blog

Lunchroom Education ‒ Making Salad Bars Work for Your District

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