New research indicates that salad bars in school lunch serving lines are most effective in promoting fresh produce consumption.
The research published the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, is titled "Location of School Lunch Salad Bars and Fruit and Vegetable Consumption in Middle Schools: A Cross-Sectional Plate Waste Study" and was written by researchers at Arizona State University.
The study, measuring the amount of fruits and vegetables taken, consumed and wasted, compared placement of salad bars inside and outside the servings line for more than 500 middle school students in six schools.
The study found that almost all students (98.6%) in the schools with salad bars inside serving lines self-served fruits and vegetables, compared with only 22.6% of students who self-served fruits and vegetables in the schools with salad bars outside lines.
Researchers also found that students at schools with salad bars inside serving lines had greater likelihood of consuming any fruit or vegetable compared with students in schools with salad bars outside the line, according to the research abstract. On the other hand, students with the salad bar outside the serving line wasted less fruits and vegetables (30%) compared with students who used salad bars inside the line (48%), according to the study.
The researchers urged school districts, when possible, to put salad bars inside school lunch serving lines to increase students" exposure to fruits and vegetables.
"Salad bars inside the lunch line resulted in significantly greater fresh fruits and vegetables taken, consumed, and wasted," the researchers said.
Placement of salad bars anywhere in the school lunch room can be effective, said Lorelei DiSogra, vice president for nutrition and health, for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.
"There are lots of schools, that because how the cafeteria is built, that the salad bar has to be beyond the point of sale," she said. "Those schools are doing a really good job too."
DiSogra said United Fresh has not observed the disparity in effectiveness in other schools around the country.
"We have seen schools where they put the salad bar beyond the point of purchase and they have been very successful," she said.
DiSogra said the Arizona State University research shouldn"t discourage schools that don"t have a choice in where to place their salad bars from acquiring them.
"I think what is really positive (from the study) is that salad bars increase kids fruit and vegetable consumption," he said.
United Fresh and other partners and participants in the Let"s Move Salad Bars to Schools have placed 4,200 salad bars in schools over the past five years or so, she said, with an expected 4,700 salad bars by the end of 2016.