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Salad Bars in School Nutrition Programs

Nutrition Services Division Management Bulletin

Purpose: Policy, Beneficial Information

To: School Nutrition Program Operators

Attention: Food Service/Program Directors, Executive Officers, and Business Officials

Number: SNP-03-2020

Date: November 2020

Reference: U.S. Department of Agriculture Policy Memorandum SP 41-2019

Supersedes: Management Bulletin USDA SNP-19-2013 Salad Bar Alternatives After the Point of Service

Subject: Salad Bars in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program

This management bulletin (MB) supersedes U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)  SNP-19-2013. It provides information regarding salad bars in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP). This MB includes policy changes, general updates to outdated resources; and links to websites and the updated questions and answers (Q&A) from the USDA. This policy provides program operators with information on how salad bars can effectively improve the service of reimbursable meals and includes information on portion size, location of the salad bar, production records, and food safety.


The USDA encourages the use of salad bars in the NSLP and SBP because salad bars are effective at increasing access to, and consumption of, a variety of fruits and vegetables, as encouraged by the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In addition to the nutritional benefits, salad bars may lower plate waste by allowing students to take only items they will eat. While salad bars offer many benefits, they are not a viable option in some school food service operations. When a salad bar is not an option, the Nutrition Services Division (NSD) encourages schools to explore other creative options to improve fruit and vegetable consumption. There are many ways that schools can incorporate salad bars to facilitate service of reimbursable meals.

Salad bars can be setup to include:

  • Food options for the complete reimbursable meal, except for milk
  • Food or menu items that are part of a reimbursable meal
  • Special fruit and vegetable themes, a baked potato bar, or side salads
  • Preportioned and prepackaged foods to provide a grab-and-go option

Portion Size

When planning a salad bar as part of a reimbursable meal, minimum portion sizes must be consistent with the meal pattern for the age and grade group. For example, when providing fruits or vegetables on a salad bar to meet the fruit or vegetable component, a menu planner implementing offer versus serve (OVS) might determine that ½ cup of a fruit or vegetable, or combination of both, from the salad bar is the minimum students can take. The planned portion size should be an amount that is reasonable for that menu item. For instance, a cup of lettuce would be reasonable, but a cup of radishes would be more than a child would normally consume.

One of the challenges of a salad bar is to ensure that students actually take the minimum required portion size. Preportioning food items is one way that can assist staff in quickly identifying portion sizes. If items are not preportioned, students should be instructed on how to select the appropriate portion(s). Providing appropriate size serving utensils will assist students in taking the correct serving size. For self-service items, schools are encouraged to place signs as a visual aid to help students determine the minimum portion. It is important to remember each fruit or vegetable serving, including those served on the salad bar, must be at least ⅛ cup to count towards the fruit or vegetable component.

Point of Service

To ensure that each student’s selections from the salad bar meet the required portions for a reimbursable meal, the salad bar should be stationed before the point of service (POS).

The program operator must:

  • Instruct students on how to select the appropriate portion(s)
  • Provide and use the appropriate sized serving utensils
  • Use signage, such as pictures, of planned portion to help students and staff to know how much equals the planned portion size

The NSD realizes that the space or layout at many school sites prohibits placement of salad bars before the POS. If some of the components of the reimbursable meal, such as the fruits and vegetables, are offered after the POS, the school must ensure students and staff are aware that any meal that does not include at least ½ cup of a fruit or vegetable, or combination of both is not reimbursable and cannot be claimed.

If a student leaves the salad bar with less than the minimum ½ cup of fruit or vegetable, or combination of both the program operator will incur fiscal action and the meal will be disallowed.

In order to claim a meal, the program operator must have a system in place to ensure that at the POS a reimbursable meal is taken.

Proposed Alternative After the Point of Service

A salad bar with fruits and vegetables offered as part of the reimbursable meal may be located after the POS. Program operators may implement the following practices without prior approval:

  • Position a trained, dedicated salad bar monitor: Program operators may position a trained monitor at the salad bar to ensure students select portion sizes that meet the requirements of a reimbursable meal. Monitors should be dedicated to the salad bar and not leave to resupply the salad bar or perform other duties. In addition, monitors should be trained in food safety and the program operator should maintain a record of all salad bar monitor training. Program operators may assign food service staff as monitors. Alternatively, other school staff such as teachers, administrators, and duty aids may be trained and assigned as monitors. Program operators may also consider the training and use of older students or parent volunteers.

  • Reroute student entry to the food service area: Where feasible, program operators may alter student entry to the cafeteria to permit students access to the salad bar prior to entering the food service line. This provides students the opportunity to select salad bar items before entering the food service area to select entrées and other components of the reimbursable meal.

  • Bundle vegetable/fruit with the entrée: Program operators may serve the vegetable in the reimbursable portion size with the entrée on the serving line.

In instances where these options are not feasible program operators may propose alternatives. The NSD may authorize, on a case-by-case basis, proposed alternatives for salad bars positioned after the POS. Such requests must be submitted in writing to the NSD for review and approval. Please submit your request to the School Nutrition Programs Unit (SNPU). To assist program operators proposing individual alternatives, the NSD developed form SNP 40, Alternative Point of Service Request, available in the Child Nutrition Information and Payment System under Applications, Download Forms. The NSD will review the request and notify the program operator of approval or denial of the request.

Production Record and Recipe Development

Program operators are required to complete menu production records (MPR) for all food items served as part of a reimbursable meal, including salad bars. The MPR must document how the food items offered contribute to the required food components and food quantities for the age/grade group(s) served.

To develop the recipe for a salad bar, the menu planner would first determine the planned serving size. Second, the number of servings the salad bar produces must be established. Finally, the menu planner must determine the amount of each food ingredient in the salad bar by:

  • Measuring the amount of each ingredient placed on the salad bar on a typical day
  • Measuring the amount of each ingredient left over on the salad bar at the end of the meal service
  • Subtracting the amount left over from the amount placed on the salad bar for each ingredient

Food Safety

To minimize the risk of food-borne illnesses, schools participating in the NSLP and SBP must follow all state and local food safety rules and regulations. It is important to control potential food safety hazards and maintain appropriate food temperatures to prevent the growth of pathogenic microorganisms. The Institute of Child Nutrition’s Best Practices: Handling Fresh Produce in Schools fact sheet, which provides specific food safety recommendations for produce is available on the USDA Best Practices-Handling Fresh Produce in Schools web page at

National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) International is an independent, not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization that develops standards for food service equipment to promote sanitation and protect public health. Following NSF food equipment standards is recommended but not required. In elementary schools (grades K–5), the NSF standards recommend all food be prewrapped when used at a self-service salad bar.

It is important for program operators to check with their local health department to determine if there are specific guidelines that must be followed for the installation and use of salad bars; and what serving methods are acceptable in order to comply with state and local requirements.

Questions and Answers

The USDA Salad Bars in the NSLP and SBP Q&As web page is available at


The following resources are available to support the successful implementation of salad bars.

Salad Bars

  • Salad Bars: A Successful Menu Planning Tool and How to Start a Salad Bar - These archived webinars and supporting resources from the University of California, Davis, California Professional Nutrition Education and Training Center are designed to assist program operators in meeting the meal pattern requirements. The webinars can be accessed on the UC Davis Center for Nutrition in Schools Webinar web page at

  • The Lunch Box: Salad Bars - The Lunch Box includes numerous resources that provide guidance for food service directors interested in implementing a salad bar. Resources include training for staff, districts, principals, school teams, and students; and salad bar procurement, operations, and marketing. The Lunch Box Salad Bars web page web page is available at

Salad Bar Funding Opportunity

  • Salad Bars to Schools - Salad Bars to Schools launched in 2010 with the mission of donating salad bars to United States schools so that every child has daily access to fresh fruits and vegetables. This comprehensive grass roots public health effort is designed to mobilize and engage stakeholders at the local, state, and national level to support salad bars in schools. An array of salad bar resources can be accessed on the Salad Bars to Schools website at Select the Application Guidelines tab to apply for your salad bar.

Nutrition Education

  • Nutrition Education Resource Guide - This resource assists local educational agencies and after-school programs in their efforts to implement well-planned, high-quality instructional programs in nutrition education. The California Department of Education (CDE) Nutrition Education Resource Guide web page is available at

  • California's Farm to Child Nutrition Programs - Farm to Child Nutrition Programs (CNP) increase children’s acceptance and consumption of fresh meals and foster a lifelong appreciation of where nutritious food comes from. The CDE provides technical assistance, training, and resources to support the USDA CNPs to incorporate a farm to school program into their existing food service operation. The CDE California's Farm to CNPs web page is available at

  • California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom - The California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom (CFAITC) website provides a wealth of resources, including a number of lesson plans aligned to common core standards. The resources, which are designed to increase awareness and understanding of agriculture among California's educators and students are available on the CFAITC website at

  • Harvest of the Month - The Network for a Healthy California’s Harvest of the Month (HOTM) provides knowledge and skills-based strategies designed to motivate and empower students to increase consumption and enjoyment of a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. A wealth of materials and resources are available on the HOTM website at

  • MyPlate Kids’ Place - This web page contains games, activities, recipes, videos, and songs, as well as resources for parents and educators, that can be accessed on the ChooseMyPlate MyPlate Kids’ Place web page at

Contact Information

If you have any questions regarding this subject, please contact Lori Porter, Child Nutrition Consultant, Southern SNPU, by phone at 916-322-1454 or by email at, or Mia Bertacchi, Child Nutrition Assistant, Northern SNPU, by phone at 916-445-1261 or by email at

Questions:   Nutrition Services Division | 800-952-5609
Last Reviewed: Wednesday, February 22, 2023
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