A group of advocates for healthier food in Montgomery County public schools is hoping a man known for bringing salad bars to a California school system can inspire similar changes here.
Rodney Taylor, who now oversees food service operations for Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia, will be the keynote speaker at the first-ever “Salad Bar Summit,” organized by a group that includes advocates who have pushed Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) to remove artificial food dyes and processed food options it says are unhealthy.
Taylor is known for implementing salad bars using produce from local farmers markets in all 31 elementary schools in the Riverside Unified School District, where he worked before coming to Fairfax County last year.
“Part of the motivation for this event is that we had a national star in school food service drop into our backyard, almost by accident,” said Lindsey Parsons, who’s coordinating the event through the group Healthy School Food Maryland.
Parsons is also involved in the nonprofit Real Food for Kids Montgomery. Last month, Parsons championed a resolution passed by the Montgomery County Council of PTAs seeking fewer foods and drinks with sugar, fewer processed a la carte items, and more fruits and vegetables in MCPS cafeterias.
“In a typical school food system, the hot entrée is a typical thing. Maybe the students take a fruit or vegetable because it’s required by federal law, but it’s an afterthought on their plate,” Parsons said. “With the salad bars, essentially every child is being exposed to it and at least having the opportunity to make a salad.”
The resolution also calls on MCPS to install salad bars in all schools and to hire an outside consultant who would assess the cost of “moving from serving processed, pre-plated food reheated in plastic to serving food cooked from scratch at its central facility or in school kitchens.”
The Salad Bar Summit, set for 9 a.m. April 16 at the Universities of Shady Grove in Rockville, is focused on making some of those improvements across the state, Parsons said.
Food service officials from school systems in Howard and Frederick counties, Baltimore City and other districts are expected to attend. The event will also include stakeholder workshops, with some of those food service officials meeting with Taylor.
Parsons said she has not received a response as to whether MCPS food service officials will attend the event, which is being hosted by a number of elected officials including County Council members Nancy Floreen, Tom Hucker and George Leventhal.
Parents, teachers and former students will also gather in workshop groups.
“[Taylor] is really there to sell them on the idea,” Parsons said. “It’s not something you do overnight. It shows it’s definitely possible for a large public school system, but sometimes you need things to be in your backyard because the West Coast is way ahead of us on school food.”