More Salad Bars in Schools Only Help If More Kids Use Them

Attempts to bring salad bars to school work best when they are marketed well.

Salads are healthy when they’re prepared well, but even a salad with too much dressing is probably healthier than pizza, right? With that in mind, an initiative called Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools has been working to get more salad bars into primary and secondary schools. As a result, about 50 percent of high schools, 39 percent of middle schools, and 31 percent of elementary schools have salad bars in place. The trick now is getting kids to use them.

But just because a salad bar exists doesn’t mean that students will use it, especially if they can buy soda and candy and eat that instead. However, a study from Brigham Young University has found some information that might help.

BYU health sciences professor Lori Spruance wrote in the study that students at schools with higher salad bar marketing are nearly three times as likely to use them.

Spruance is clear that getting kids to eat healthy at home will have the best effect, as introducing them to food at home in a controlled environment is more likely to get them eating that same food elsewhere. Failing that though, since schools can’t really influence how parents raise their kids, the trick seems to be marketing.

Students need to not only know that there is a salad bar, but they need to be reminded of it often. This is a pretty common idea in marketing, which is why there are so many commercials for fast food restaurants, because constant reminders are the only way to get somebody to pay attention to one restaurant over another. Schools that increased signage for their salad bars, promoted them in newsletters and other publications, or mentioned them in their digital presence, were more successful at getting kids to use the salad bar.

“It takes a lot of effort and time, but most children and adolescents require repeated exposures to foods before they will eat them on their own,” Spruance said. “If a child is being exposed to foods at home that are served at school, the child may be more likely to eat those fruits or vegetables at school.”

Changing trends toward eating in the United States is a constant hurdle. But if we use some of the same tactics that have led to our unhealthy eating habits to get kids and teens interested in school salad bars, we might have more success. Studies like this will help in that process.

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