Western students help prove the benefits of salad bars in Bellingham schools

Kulshan students’ fruit and vegetable consumption before and after salad bar. Graphic courtesy of Whatcom Farm-to-School

Western Today staff

This past school year, between February and May, Bellingham Public Schools established salad bars in each of its middle schools – Whatcom, Kulshan, Fairhaven and Shuksan – as well as Sehome High in an effort to improve students’ access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Students from Western Washington University evaluated the impact these salad bars had on students’ diets and found that after the change, more students were regularly taking and eating fruit and vegetables.

Graduate students from WWU’s Huxley College of the Environment designed and implemented a study to assess the amount of fruits and vegetables consumed by students before and after the installation of the Whatcom Middle School salad bar. WWU undergraduates from Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies implemented a similar study at Kulshan.

In both schools, photos were taken of students’ lunch trays just after they paid for lunch and then again when they were done eating, and visual estimates were made of the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables that were taken and eaten. Photographic data were gathered during three lunch periods before the salad bar was installed and three lunches after the salad bar was in use. The Whatcom research showed a 206-percent increase in the consumption of fruits and vegetables following installation of the salad bar, and the Kulshan study revealed an increase of 119 percent.

Salad bars offer a great way to meet the USDA guidelines for fruit and vegetable servings that school lunches must include, improve student nutrition by offering choices (which increases the likelihood students will eat the food they take), and allow the district to more easily and regularly serve locally-grown foods. BPS says the salad bars represent an ongoing effort to improve students’ wellbeing and the school district’s approach to nurturing the "whole child," as shown in The Bellingham Promise, the district’s strategic plan.

Food Service director Mark Dalton expressed his gratitude to the WWU students for their research.

"It is great to have the data to confirm that we are doing the right thing," he said. "The students are clearly eating more fresh produce with the salad bars in place, and that’s what we want to see."

BPS Food Services has set a goal to have a salad bar in every school and will continue adding salad bars to schools as funding permits.