The Hillsborough School District takes the first step to providing healthier lunches for elementary school kids Monday when it initiates a pilot program at Valrico Elementary.
The district's GreenHouse Salad Bar program, fully launched in high schools this fall, is proving so popular among students that the district now wants to introduce the concept in elementary schools. Ginain Grayes, marketing and communications director for student nutrition services, said Valrico will be the first of several elementary schools to test the program.
"Elementary needs are different than middle and high school," Grayes said in explaining why the district will use a pilot program. "We're taking the next few months to have it down to an art."
The salad bar offers students a list of choices, including items such as turkey, chicken, eggs, carrots, cucumbers, Craisins, crispy Chinese noodles and southwest tortilla strips. Students check off up to five items that are placed on a spring mix bed of lettuce and spinach, for $2.25.
Grayes said part of the salad bar's popularity stems from the fact kids get to make their own choices. They may sniff at a pre-made salad, but be enthused about a salad they "created."
The question now becomes can elementary kids create salads and check off five items in a quick and orderly fashion. Picky eaters and fickle decision makers may slow the process, so that's one of the reasons the school will do a trial run starting at Valrico and then expanding to a few other elementary schools across the county.
"We have to determine how will kids come up to the serving line, how is it going to be presented," Grayes said. "We have so many schools with so many different layouts and structures in the cafeteria. We have to create a few templates, for lack of a better term, and tailor it to make it as easy and seamless as we can for our customers."
In an effort to ensure expediency, Grayes said one possibility may involve having the elementary kids fill out the list earlier in the morning before they reach the cafeteria.
What doesn't seem to be in question is the enthusiasm for the salads. Valrico principal Anthony Montoto said students and parents have expressed excitement.
"We have promoted the salad bar on our marquee, and the response has been quite positive," Montoto said. "One of the newer focuses is childhood obesity so now we have another option for kids to be healthy. They're excited and our faculty is excited too. It's another option for our teachers and staff."
The emphasis on healthier options is partly a result of new federal school meal guidelines aimed at curbing obesity, but Grayes said the Hillsborough district already had standards in place to meet the guidelines and hasn't needed to make a big adjustment.
Ernest Hooper can be reached at email@example.com.