Why We Did This
If you ask an adult what they think a 14 year-old’s favorite school meal is, the adult would likely guess pizza or cheeseburgers. They might chuckle knowingly, and then share a story about lunch from their school cafeteria days. Through multiple conversations with high school students in Boston Public Schools, we learned that many of them actually strongly preferred the entree salad offered at lunch. And yet, at many of these students’ schools, there weren’t enough entree salads made each day to meet student demand. We wanted to ensure that students were able to access and enjoy the district-wide free meal programs offered by Boston Public Schools.
Students like our salads, but we don’t make enough to meet the demand. Our hypothesis? If we made more salads, we could increase participation in the school lunch program.
We didn't want to waste food by over-making salads, but we also didn't want to "under-make" what might encourage more students to take advantage of a healthy lunch option provided at no cost. We worked with eight schools (seven high schools and one school serving grades 3-8) for 2 months to try to increase their salad production.
Results and Lessons Learned
We worked with cafeteria managers to understand challenges to doubling their salad production (e.g., cold refrigeration, lack of space on the lunch line). For most schools, doubling meant going from 20 to 40 salads, or working to increase from 40 to 60, within their particular constraints. Looking at the cafeteria managers’ production records for a six-week period, we did not see waste (that is: salads made but not taken by students) increase, and we did see participation increase. Given that we did not reach “salad equilibrium” —a point at which the consumption of entree salads meets the daily production rate—it seemed plausible that there was more to investigate here. This prototype helped inform future work within the My Way Cafe production model, an exploration of re-introducing salad bars into cafeterias, and the inclusion of spice / seasoning stations at the end of the cafeteria line for students to personalize their lunch selections.
In the past, there was only one entree salad listed on the menu put out by Food & Nutrition Services central office for each day. However, many cafeteria managers shared that they knew which entree salad types the students at their school did and didn't like (for example, at one school, the Greek salad was not be a popular option, but the Southwestern salad was). Working with the district’s nutritionist and menu planner, while staying within federal guidelines and regulations, we were able to give cafeteria managers freedom to choose to add a different entree salad to their menu for the day.
One cafeteria manager shared that the salads weren’t very labor-intensive to make, but that making more salads did take time away from her staff’s capacity to prepare for the next morning’s breakfast before they left their shift for the day. Further conversations with Food & Nutrition Services central office were recommended if the prototype continued.