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

EO Guidance Document #
FNS Document #
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Policy Memos
Guidance Documents
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PDF Icon Policy Memo (144.49 KB)
DATE:September 23, 2019
MEMO CODE:SP 41-2019
SUBJECT:Salad Bars in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program
TO:Regional Directors
Child Nutrition Programs
All Regions State
Child Nutrition Programs
All States

This memorandum supersedes policy memo SP 31-2013, “Salad Bars in the National School Lunch Program,” dated March 27, 2013. This revision includes policy changes and general updates to outdated resources/website links and updated questions and answers. This memorandum provides state agencies 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.


USDA encourages the use of salad bars in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (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, we encourage 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 include food options for the complete reimbursable meal (except for milk), or they can include a food or menu item that is part of a reimbursable meal, depending on the food items available and how they are structured. Salad bars can feature a special fruit and vegetable theme, a baked potato bar, or side salads. Salad bars can be set-up in a variety of ways, including pre-portioned and pre-packaged foods to provide a grab-and-go option to accommodate a high volume of students in a short time, while practicing safe food handling and reducing the risks associated with foodborne illness.

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-grade group. For example, when providing fruits or vegetables on a salad bar to meet the fruit or vegetable component, a menu planner operating Offer Versus Serve 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. Pre-portioning food items is one way that can assist staff in quickly identifying portion sizes. If items are not pre-portioned, 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 Sale

To ensure that each student’s selections from the salad bar meet the required portions for a reimbursable meal, the point of sale (POS) should be stationed after the salad bar. If a school is not able to position the salad bar in a location prior to the POS, pre-portioned items should be provided, or students must be instructed on how to select the appropriate portion(s), and appropriately sized serving utensils must be provided. In addition, schools could post visual reminders such as posters to help students determine how to select foods from the salad bar. Schools also could assign student “salad bar ambassadors” to assist younger students in selecting the appropriate size portions from the salad bar. Please note, state agencies may choose to require approval of alternate POS for salad bars.

Production and Menu Records

SFAs are required to use production and menu records. This requirement can be particularly helpful for salad bars. Production and menu records demonstrate how the meals offered contribute to the required food components and food quantities for each age/grade group every day. These records can be helpful when developing salad bars because they promote consistent food quality and predictable yields, control food costs, and help with inventory control. The record should be constructed based on a typical day.

To develop a production record 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; and
  • 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 provides specific food safety recommendations for produce (

NSF International (NSF) is an independent, not-for-profit, non-governmental 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 pre-wrapped when used at a self-service salad bar. It is important for SFAs to check with their state agency and/or local health department to determine what serving methods are acceptable in order to comply with state and local requirements.

State agencies are reminded to distribute this memorandum to program operators. Program operators should direct any questions concerning this guidance to their state agency. State agencies with questions should contact the appropriate FNS regional office.

Angela Kline
Policy and Program Development Division


Page updated: January 19, 2024

The contents of this guidance document do not have the force and effect of law and are not meant to bind the public in any way. This document is intended only to provide clarity to the public regarding existing requirements under the law or agency policies.