Salad bars change the culture of school cafeterias and present a new opportunity for students to learn and engage with school meals. For school administration, principals, teachers, parents, and community, salad bars represent a tangible example  of what “eating healthy” can look like. While salad bars are an exciting addition to the lunchroom, they can also bring trepidation. Including the school district community in the preparation and implementation process helps to ensure a smooth transition.

Staff Training

Salad Bars represent a significant service model shift for any district.  To prepare the team, the director should provide training that includes how the salad bar impacts the menu plan, product ordering and preparation, setting up and breaking down the bar, and addressing meal service with a salad bar.  For most school districts, adding a salad bar means that the service line will continue from the hot food line into the cafeteria. The point of sale might also move, since it must be placed after the salad bar. These are significant shifts in the school site team’s daily routine and require practice to master. Budgeting time and funds for staff training is part of the process. 

Salad bar operating plans should be developed for central kitchen and/or satellite or stand-alone kitchens as applicable. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that include salad bars as part of the menu and service are 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. (Click here for a sample of Salad Bar Standard Operating Procedures.)

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:

  • Sanitation
  • Consistent use of temp logs (see a sample of a Temperature Log)
  • Chilling pans used on the bar
  • Plenty of utensil and ingredient back-ups
  • Set up a pattern of rotating out products through meal periods
  • Customer Service
  • Menu and Salad Bar ingredient layout
  • Ordering, receiving, inventory
  • Preparation 
  • Recordkeeping compliance (counting)

Dedicated professional development days or half days are ideal for group trainings. Many districts rollout  a salad bar at one site until it is running smoothly, and then use that school as a training location for the subsequent school team. Whether the director performs a group training or uses the first launch site for on-going and subsequent training, an outline of salad bar training that aligns with individual district set up can be very helpful. Short “refresher” trainings can also be developed and performed annually as part of the Professional Standards training hour requirements.

Staff, as well as volunteers and regular lunchroom supervisors (e.g. vice principals, aides, teachers), are important to the overall follow-through of Salad Bar Procedures. By educating them on proper use of the salad bar, you can ensure long-term success of the program. Marketing Posters and Signs can educate students, and be doubly helpful 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.


District Preparedness

How to Engage Key District Stakeholders with Salad Bars

Salad bar success is inextricably tied to a district’s enthusiasm and approval. Salad bars can be complex additions to the menu and day-to-day organization of the “back-of-the-house.” They have an equally large impact on the school’s lunch periods.

As part of the planning process, it is important to inform the district of the exciting shift in your operation. Usually, salad bars receive positive reception from adults because they are a tangible sign of school food improvement. Administrators at the district level,school principals,  teachers, school board, and parents can provide critical support for your program. Parents help tremendously by educating children about healthy eating habits, trying new foods, and supporting school lunch. School boards will see the positive results of increased participation and interest in nutrition that can foster a better educational environment.

Principals and School Teams

Once the food service director and team complete the initial work of planning and strategy, they can move on to informing principals at the designated schools about the program change to salad bars. 

In many districts, food service sometimes seeks approval from the principal prior to launching a salad bar. We discourage this approach because systemically food service is responsible for managing all aspects of the meal program. While we recognize that principals take a lot of ownership of the school, it is extremely important to meet with the principals one-on-one to explore their concerns and seek their support, not to ask for their permission. When principals see that the food service department is prepared and organized, they will almost always support change. Principals can support food service operational shifts by informing their teams (teachers, office staff, teaching assistants and maintenance staff) about the changes coming to their school site.


Engaging students with the new salad bar can be the most rewarding part of the whole process. While having more choices is exciting, some students may be overwhelmed. To help students ease in the experience, you should create clear guidelines for student participation from the beginning. We recommend preparing students by offering samples and educating them about salad bar etiquette. Cafeteria Activities, such as Rainbow Days, are great ways to engage students in the salad bar.

Food safety concerns can derail a salad bar launch, but we know from thousands of successful operations across the country that salad bars can be completely clean and safe. Minimizing risk through student education is imperative. Students constantly touch many parts of the cafeteria, from the tables to the service line, and salad bars are no exception. We often see hand sanitizing stations in school districts, but nothing is as effective as hand washing. Many school districts already have extensive educational campaigns to reinforce this important activity for general health. The following list represents the most common food safety practices that we focus on when educating students.

Student Etiquette

  • Always wash your hands before mealtime.
  • The sneeze guard is there to keep your head away from the products.
  • Ask an adult if you can’t reach.
  • Alert staff as soon as a spill happens!
  • Food should only be touched with clean utensils—never use your fingers.
  • If utensil falls on the floor, don’t put it back—tell an adult.
  • Don’t taste food items while you are standing at the salad bar.
  • Only take what you can eat. You can always come back for seconds.
  • No coughing, spitting, or sneezing on the food or the salad bar equipment.
  • Always use a clean plate/boat for seconds.
  • Always be polite in line and wait your turn.
  • Use the serving utensils every time you reach for something.

When the hotline doesn’t offer vegetable or fruit, students must understand that the salad bar is a required part of their meal. Use signs to illustrate and train students about portion size and choice, particularly for new students. Menu boards andvisual aids on/near the salad bar are helpful reminders as the students are waiting in line. The Lunch Box provides Posters and Signs that are free for you to download.

From the Blog

Lunchroom Education ‒ Making Salad Bars Work for Your District

This blog post has been reposted with permission from Let's Move Salad Bars to Schools, read the original blog post here. Revolutionizing your lunchrooms with salad bars is a complex process from the initial idea to the actual...


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