Braden River High students rush to cafeteria salad station for month-long healthy food project
EAST MANATEE -- It's not every day you see students choosing a healthy salad over burgers and fries. But a four-week pilot project at Braden River High School is turning the junk-food trend around.
Three days after a Subway-style salad station opened in the high school cafeteria, lines have been pouring out the door during every lunch period and salad is the new rage. On Friday alone, more than 100 students waited in line during the first lunch period for a hearty salad filled with protein, vegetables and fruit fixings served on top of a bed of lettuce grown literally in their own backyard.
Salad certainly captured the fancy of sophomore Odalis Janet Cedillo, who decided to try something healthy and different for her end-of-the-week lunch.
"Usually, I have pizza on Friday," Cedillo said. "But I'm tired of all that. This is amazing. It's healthy for my body and I'll be in better shape."
Successful ideas in one school district can often be transferable to another, and that's exactly the case at Braden River High, according to Skye Grundy, dietitian and nutrition coordinator for the Manatee County School District. Grundy said she learned about the salad station concept from a Hillsborough County high school and decided to tweak and test it at Braden River for the close of the school year.
"We didn't want to call it a salad bar because we didn't want to give the impression you dish the salad out yourself," Grundy said. "Food safety is a top priority as well as portion control. We make it to order for the students as they go through the line."
Braden River students have a lot of variety to choose from that's healthy and tasty. Students can select low-fat and low-sodium proteins such as chicken, ham and eggs, as well as an assortment of garden vegetables and special toppings such as corn, bacon bits, cheddar and mozzarella cheese to dried fruit and raisins.
"I stick to the basics. I don't like a lot of peppers and all that. Ham, cheese, bacon bits and ranch dressing will do just fine," said Tyniya Latreace Jackson, who started a running program to accompany her new diet.
Most students don't realize lettuce served at the salad station is grown by the school agriculture department in a horticulture study center garden behind the school. Braden River horticulture students grow crops to be donated to area food banks that feed thousands in the local community, according to school officials.
The school salad project also reminds people the school nutrition employees and food service workers deserve recognition. Friday was designated School Lunch Hero Day, a takeoff of a popular comic book series figure, "Lunch Lady," created by nationally renowned author Jarett Krosoczka. Monday is the start of School Nutrition Employee week, designated by the national School Nutrition Association to celebrate nutrition professionals who prepare healthy meals for students, adhere to strict nutrition standards, navigate food allergies and offer quality service.
For Braden River High cafeteria employee Daryl Falkowski, it's a great opportunity to give students nutritious food.
"I'm hearing such excitement. The numbers really grew quickly overnight, and it's interesting to serve salads that are all so different," Falkowski said.
Vice principal Don French isn't surprised by all the excitement over salad.
"School is so structured and rigid. If you give kids something different and you give them a choice, they'll be excited about it."
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter@MoschellaHerald.