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Natural and organic foods retailer Whole Foods Market has teamed up with Chef Ann Cooper, the nation’s “Renegade Lunch Lady,” for a second year to raise awareness of healthier school food through a project that will fund salad bars for public schools across the country.
“With childhood obesity levels at an all-time high, everyone has a stake in this fight and must take action to help change the way our children eat both at home and school,” said Walter Robb, co-CEO at Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods. “We see partnering with our shoppers to raise funds for salad bars in local schools as an immediate way for us to come together and make an impact on our children’s health in the communities we serve. Our goal is to provide a salad bar in a local school in each of the communities we serve with our 300 stores.”
From now until Sept. 29, shoppers may donate to the project at the check-out or make a donation online through Saladbarproject.org. Each salad bar kit costs about $2,500 dollars, and includes a Cambro portable five-well salad bar unit with all of the necessary insert pans, cutting boards, knives and shipping costs. Salad bar training tools and videos for school nutrition staff will also be available through TheLunchBox.org, which Whole Foods shoppers helped to raise funds to build last year so all schools can have access to tools for healthier food.
The salad bars will be donated to local schools through an online grant process, which will be administered by Cooper’s nonprofit, F3: Food Family Farming Foundation. Any public elementary, middle or high school within 50 miles of a Whole Foods store is eligible to apply with the support of the school principal, nutrition service director, and the superintendent of the district. The online application and full criteria are available at Saladbarproject.org.
The application asks for basic school information such as the percentage of students enrolled in the Federal Free and Reduced Meal Program, and participation in the school’s Reimbursable School Lunch Program. Grant applications will be accepted between Sept. 1 and Nov. 1. Applicants chosen based on the grant criteria and the level of the school’s commitment to sustaining the salad bar will be revealed in early January 2011.
Last year, Whole Foods donated more than $700,000 to fund “The Lunchbox Project,” an online resource created by the F3 Foundation, which helps public schools provide more nutritious lunches for kids. The funds were used to develop Thelunchbox.org Web site, which launched in time for the 2010 school year. The online tool offers free, comprehensive resources to help schools replace highly processed foods with fresh, natural, made-from-scratch items in a realistic, cost-effective manner.
“Making small changes, like replacing french fries with fresh fruits, steamed or raw vegetables, and whole grains, can make a big difference,” said Robb. “A fresh, healthy salad bar with an array of colorful choices empowers children to make smart food choices.”
According to Whole Foods, more than 31 million children eat a federally funded school lunch daily through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). On average, only 90 cents per lunch is spent on food, and many children are eating mostly frozen, highly processed, packaged foods. With no national standardized limit on sugar or other ingredients such as artificial colors, flavors or preservatives, it’s common to find hamburgers, chicken nuggets, fries, chocolate milk, and corn dogs offered as a typical school lunch, the retailer noted. i
Last week, the U.S. Senate passed its version of the Child Nutrition Act, which would make changes to the types of foods that can be sold in schools. The House of Representatives must pass its version of the bill in time for President Obama to sign the legislation before Sept. 30, when the current act expires. Robb and Cooper plan to visit Washington again this year to urge Congress to pass a strong child nutrition bill and ask polic makers to continue expanding options for healthier eating in schools.
For more information about The Salad Bar Project, as well as solutions for affordable, healthy lunches, and recipe ideas, visit Whole Foods’ Web site at www.wholefoodsmarket.com/backtoschool/.
Whole Foods operates more than 280 stores in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.