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The cafeteria at Columbine Elementary School looked a little different for the hungry students who entered it Monday.

In front of the kitchen where the kids were used to getting their trays of food was a salad bar. It was stocked with baby carrots, cucumber spears, celery sticks and kiwi wedges.

That salad bar dream became a reality thanks to the combination of the School Food Initiative grant Re 3 School District received from LiveWell Colorado and the willingness of Columbine Principal Nick Ng to give it a try.

“I’ve been trying to do this for 10 years,” Tormohlen said.

But in the past there was lots of resistance from elementary level principals, who only had 20 minute lunch periods for the students to get their food, eat and move on from the cafeteria. There were worries about running late because of hold ups in the line with students getting food off the salad bar, instead of simply getting a tray and sitting down.

On Monday, all except one of the Columbine grades stayed on track on the salad bar’s first day, Tormohlen said, and the class that ran late was only a few minutes behind.”No one thought they could do it,” the food service director said. “They did wonderfully. Even the first graders did good.”

Thanks to the grant, Tormohlen and the Re 3 school kitchen workers have worked with three professional chefs from LiveWell Colorado over the past year and a half to revamp Re 3’s food service program, offering much more from scratch cooking by the school cooks and far less canned or frozen food used in the school meals. Getting fresh vegetables and fruit in front of kids at salad bars was another of the goals of the grant.

At the start of this school year, Tormohlen already had salad bars in place at the high schools and middle school in Fort Morgan, but she particularly wanted to be able to expand that to the elementary schools.

But the grant did not extend quite far enough to cover the equipment for getting salad bars at all of the district’s schools, she said.

Setting up a salad bar involves about $2,700 in costs for chillers, pans and tongs. The veggies and fruit to put on it then is an additional cost. Her weekly produce cost currently is about $2,500.

Now that Tormohlen has proven a salad bar can work at an elementary school, she is hoping to get donations and sponsors to help be able to get salad bars in the district’s three other elementary schools and maybe even at Sherman Early Childhood Center.

“If we can get enough donations, I hope to do more,” she said. “We have four more to go, and then everyone in our district will have a salad bar. That’s on my bucket list before I retire.”

Tormohlen has set up a fundraising page through the nonprofit Salad Bars to Schools and is hoping to raise $11,821 to be able to get the other four salad bars set up.

And while having more salad bars could cause the district’s produce cost to increase between $500 and $600 per week, Tormohlen thinks it would be worth it.

“Places we have salad bars, the kids eat it,” she said. “We don’t waste a lot.”

Rob Mattoch, one of the LiveWell Colorado chefs, was not surprised to hear that.

“If you give them choices, kids will take something,” he said, “and they are much more likely to eat it than if you plop something on their plate.”

Sarah Kendrick, another LiveWell Colorado chef, said getting the salad bar going at Columbine can serve as a model for how it can work for the other Fort Morgan elementary schools.

“They did a really good job,” she said of how the young students did with getting things off the salad bar on its first day of being offered.

Kendrick said she spoke with quite a few of the Columbine students on Monday and asked them what they thought of the salad bar.

“They’re excited to find they can make their own choices,” she said. “They look forward to seeing new items.”

At the start of the lunch hours, the principal told the students to try what was there that day, also promising that there would be more offerings on the salad bar as time went by.

“The menu choices will expand once they get the practice of not taking too much,” Ng explained.

Many of the students said they hoped to see broccoli, strawberries and lettuce salad on the salad bar.
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