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School Meals Are a Pleasure to Eat in Riverside, California

We’ve never been satisfied with meeting minimum standards. We started our own school food revolution by eliminating sodas and junk food from our cafeterias, setting up school gardens, and purchasing fruits and vegetables from local and regional farmers before the new school meals came into play. 

What we’ve done in the cafeterias of Riverside Unified School District has afforded students personal experiences with choices that can shape behavior far beyond the school lunch line. Children learn to make decisions that carry over outside of school, providing a foundation for a lifetime of healthy snack and meal choices.

Prior to the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, in response to those students who had graduated from elementary schools where salad bars were available to them on a daily basis, Chef Ryan Douglas introduced “Fresh Express” into our secondary schools. He developed a signature line of salads and sandwiches that feature fresh, local and healthy produce and utilized USDA food selections. He upgraded the packaging in order to make the selections appeal to the student’s eye and presented items not featured in most school cafeterias like Ciabatta bread and upscale salad dressings.

Our Farmers’ Market Salad Bar is internationally recognized and serves as a replicable model for other districts interested in changing the perception of school food. Offering a salad bar in 30 of our 31 elementary schools with daily access to a variety of fruits and vegetables has been no easy task but it has been rewarding. The health benefit extends beyond the healthy foods consumed during the lunch hour.

Salad Bar First (SB1) is the best of both worlds bringing the Farmers’ Market Salad Bar and the hot lunch together. As childhood obesity has come to the forefront of public health concerns, there is growing interest in finding ways to guide our children’s food choices to be more beneficial for their long-term health. By having our students select farm fresh fruits and vegetables first and having our staff encourage them to do so they learn to make better choices that will ultimately have a positive influence on their lifelong eating behavior.  

Salad bars allow students at Riverside Unified School District to make their own choice of locally grown produce. (Photo courtesy of Riverside Unified School District)

School meals are not just a pleasure to eat in our district but an opportunity to teach children the value and importance of eating healthy. 

Let's Move! is celebrating National Nutrition Month with stories of school cafeterias serving healthy meals across the country. Learn more about the historic, healthy changes to school meals.

See other blog posts in this series: