‘Eat the rainbow’: Salad bars returning to DC-area schools after pandemic lull


Several school systems across the D.C. region are reopening salad bars, which were largely closed as students transitioned back to the classroom last year.

Welcome to the School Zone, WTOP’s weekly feature about the latest topics and trends in education across the D.C. region. WTOP’s Scott Gelman takes a closer look at the issues and how they affect your kids. If you have story ideas or suggestions, email Scott at sgelman@wtop.com.

Salad bars begin reopening in DC-area schools 

What it is: As the Fairfax County, Virginia, school board meeting concluded last week, board member Megan McLaughlin expressed concern that prior school boards “invested a lot for us to get the salad bars and healthy foods in schools,” and that the COVID-19 pandemic was a setback.

She recommended discussing food options during community town hall meetings, because “[the food is] just not good.”

Superintendent Michelle Reid, in her first year with the state’s largest school system, is leading an initiative to get salad bars back up and running. Earlier this fall, Reid met with representatives from the Healthy Lifestyles Center at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU.

Health experts there are evaluating salad bars and their impact on dietary consumption patterns in elementary school kids, according to a copy of the presentation shared with Reid and obtained by WTOP.

What it means: In some school systems across the country, salad bars are in the process of reopening after temporarily closing due to the pandemic.

D.C.-area leaders maintain that it’s essential to provide equitable access to different foods, and that providing students with healthy options can help them remain focused in the classroom.

Regional snapshot: In Fairfax County, salad bars will begin to reopen in February for schools that had them as part of lunch options before the pandemic.

A school system spokeswoman told me the Food and Nutrition Services Department will use a phased approach to install salad bars at elementary, middle and high schools that didn’t have them before.

In Prince William County, director of School Food and Nutrition Services Adam Russo, told me all 101 county schools and centers have what they call “garden bars.” Shortly after in-person classes resumed there, the self-serve salad bars reopened, he said. Utensils and tongs used are frequently sanitized.

The garden bar often features items that correspond with the main course offering. One day this week, Russo said, a school served nachos, so the garden bar included things like corn salad and mango salsa.

Loudoun County has self-service fruit and vegetable bars at its middle and high schools, and additional seasonal offerings that are rotated every two weeks.

In D.C., self-serve salad bars have opened at five high schools, including Anacostia, Columbia Heights Educational Campus, Eastern High, Wilson and Roosevelt. More are expected to open at other schools in the coming months.

Talking points: Russo said he’s in his sixth year with the school system in Prince William County, and that when he arrived, all the schools had salad bars. But, he said, “we’ve continued to offer even more robust offerings, trying to encourage students to eat the rainbow.”

Wiatta Padmore, principal at London Towne Elementary in Fairfax County, told me the school had a salad bar before the pandemic that was “very well received by kids and families.”

When students are able to pick exactly what they want to eat from a salad bar, Padmore said, it “not only builds their confidence and their independence on being adults, but they get to choose what it is that they want to eat, which translates into being able to make decisions for themselves.”

By the numbers
Some data that caught my eye this week.

First quarter grades: School board members in Prince William County were briefed on first quarter academic data on Wednesday night. About 34% of first graders, 43% of second graders, 35% of third graders, 33% of fourth graders and 32% of fifth graders are below grade level in reading, according to school board documents.

What Scott’s Reading

  • Speed limit near Battlefield High School to be lowered [WTOP] 
  • Anne Arundel students to go back to school before Labor Day [WTOP]
  • Speed cameras to go up near some Fairfax County schools [WTOP] 
  • Md. students show progress toward pre-pandemic levels; concerns remain in some areas [WTOP] 
  • LCPS students react to superintendent’s firing [NBC Washington]
  • High school student advocates block Rockville street for social housing, tenant protection [Bethesda Beat]

Field Trip 

Here’s a fun thought ahead of the weekend.

Early birthday celebration: With everyone prepping to head out of town for the holidays, I’m planning a small early birthday gathering at a bar in D.C. Plenty of Pitbull will be played.


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