Michelle Obama inspires school salad bar initiative

A coalition of farming interests and advocates for healthy nutrition launched a new initiative Monday that aims to put 6,000 salad bars in U.S. schools in the next three years. The campaign, "Let's Move Salad Bars to Schools," seeks to bolster first lady Michelle Obama's campaign against childhood obesity.

The founding partners of the initiative are the National Fruit and Vegetable Alliance, the United Fresh Produce Association Foundation, and the Food, Family, Farming Foundation. The group is trying to raise $15 million from corporations, foundations and the public.

"We are thrilled to build upon the success and momentum of the First Lady's 'Let's Move!' initiative with 'Let's Move Salad Bars to Schools'," Tom Stenzel, president and CEO of the United Fresh Produce Association, said in a statement. "School salad bars are a proven strategy for increasing children’s fruit and vegetable consumption and launching them on a lifetime of healthy eating."

Getting salad bars into schools isn't without controversy, however. 

As the environmental website Grist reports, "many school districts [refuse] to install salad bars for food-safety reasons and because of cumbersome (Department of Agriculture) rules governing the federally subsidized school lunch program that feeds some 31 million U.S. school children every day."

Among the concerns: elementary school children might spread germs by sneezing on the salad components or handling it with their hands. And USDA regulations require that cashiers verify that children have served themselves the correct portions of fruits and vegetables required under the federal lunch program.

"In October," reports Grist, "the USDA's Food and Nutrition Services division, which oversees the subsidized meal program, circulated a memo saying that while it encourages the use of salad bars in schools, school menu planners must tell students the minimum amounts they must take from salad bars, cashiers 'must be trained to judge accurately the quantities of self-service items,' and point-of-sale registers 'must be stationed after the salad bar.' "