Darius Lee has learned to take one for the team. A salad, that is. The freshman running back for Freedom High School's Patriots said eating healthy and taking care of himself is part of his contribution. "I'm an athlete and I gotta support the team," Lee said, carrying his salad, complete with chicken, cucumbers, cheese and Italian dressing to his table.
Lee is one of many students who partake in Freedom's new Field of Greens, a salad bar alternative to the usual school cafeteria fare. For the regular lunch price of $2.75, students can order a salad with a choice of up to five toppings, including cheese, chicken, ham, apple slices, croutons, tortilla strips and salad dressing.
The program is the brainchild of Mary Kathryn Rains, the HealthCorps coordinator at Freedom. HealthCorps is a nonprofit organization founded by TV talk show host Dr. Mehmet Oz to combat obesity and promote a healthy lifestyle. The program places recent college graduates, like Rains, in a high school for two years to implement health programs that focus on nutrition, physical fitness and mental resiliency. Rains graduated from Davidson College near Charlotte, N.C.
The Field of Greens is one of several activities and programs Rains introduced at the school, including a health fair and a version of the reality TV show The Biggest Loser for the school's staff. Currently, the Field of Greens exists only at Freedom, but the idea has been proposed to other Hillsborough schools.
Field of Greens started in November, and cafeteria manager Patty Kintzele said about 115 to 130 of Freedom's 2,000-plus student choose it every day.
"Quite a few of the children really enjoy it," Kintzele said.
Rains isn't alone in making the program work. Students in Freedom's culinary arts program help to create the food and serve it on a rotating basis. They each work one week a month in the cafeteria making and serving the custom-made salads.
"I think they really get a lot out of it," said Joyce Simonds, the culinary arts teacher at Freedom. "They learn about better communication with their customers and about healthy eating.
"And it's not as much a challenge as I thought it would be," Simonds said. "For a lot of students, when there is a salad bar available, they will eat from it."
One of Simonds' students, Austin Shafer, a junior, said he expects the experience of creating and serving salads will help him after graduation.
"It's a good customer relations experience," Shafer said. "When I graduate and I'm looking for jobs, I expect I'll be able to adapt to the job easier."
Shafer's classmate and fellow junior, Sarah Nickle, also saw value in working the salad bar.
"We get to learn and to help the other kids make healthier eating options," Nickle said.
But for students such as senior David Mitolo, Field of Greens is as much about good tasting food as it is health.
"I like it because it's fresher than the other food," Mitolo said. "The food here is one of the few things that's fresh, not prepackaged."
Freshman Megan Pollenz shared those sentiments.
"It's good food for a school lunch," Pollenz said. "It's fresh. At my elementary school, they served a terrible tasting pizza. Most of the other school lunches are disgusting tasting."
Sean C. Ledig can be reached at email@example.com.