North Dakota has nation’s highest percentage of middle, high schools with salad bars

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FARGO — Most everyone knows eating fruits and vegetables daily is good for you, and it appears North Dakota schools have stepped up to the plate to make sure they’re available to all students.

A new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report lists North Dakota as leading all others when it comes to school salad bars. With 91 percent of its middle and high schools offering lunchtime salad bars, the state easily bested Vermont’s 86 percent, and Nebraska and South Dakota’s 85 percent.

Minnesota came in a little lower in the pack, at 73 percent, while the national median was 45 percent.

The states at the bottom in school salad bar offerings were Delaware and North Carolina at about 13 percent and Mississippi at 15 percent.

Cindy Hogenson, nutrition services director for Fargo Public Schools, is pleased with North Dakota’s showing. “Not surprised, but I’m happy to see that we are being progressive in offering fruits and vegetables in a way that’s enticing to students,” she said.

Fresh cantaloupe, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, peppers and broccoli were just some of the options available at Davies High School in Fargo and Liberty Middle School in West Fargo this week.

“I always get, like, a bunch of cucumbers. They’re my favorite,” said Taylor Bracco, a Liberty seventh grader.

The CDC’s 2018 State Indicator Report on Fruits and Vegetables looked at ways to increase produce consumption because it can help protect against serious and costly chronic conditions, including heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and some cancers.

Despite the benefits, the report said, Americans still don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables daily.

Both Fargo and West Fargo schools try to expose students to less familiar items, in hopes they can find a new favorite. Dana Rieth, food services director for West Fargo Public Schools, said that could include spinach, edamame, sugar snap peas or zucchini.

In Fargo schools, it could be jicama or sweet potato sticks, served raw. “If we offer a little bit of ranch for dipping, that helps,” Hogenson said.

In addition to school salad bars, the CDC report gathered data on other factors, including participation in farm-to-school programs and the number of farmers markets in each state.

North Dakota fared well in the farmers market category, with nearly nine markets per 100,000 residents. Minnesota had 3.5, slightly higher than the national average of nearly three farmers markets per 100,000 residents.

The showing of North Dakota schools that serve locally grown produce was less impressive. The report said about 31 percent of school districts in the state participated in farm-to-school programs. Minnesota’s participation rate was just over 50 percent, while the national average was nearly 42 percent.

Rieth said the West Fargo School District tries to buy as much local produce as possible. She estimates 10 to 20 percent of the fruits and vegetables served in schools this fall will be locally grown.

“We know that local, fresh produce has a better taste when it’s garden fresh and ready to go,” she said.

Local growers are eager to sell in larger quantities, Rieth said, if the district works with them on delivery and a fair price. “I think it’s worth it,” she said, to get the freshest items for the salad bars.

Along with middle and high schools, all Fargo and West Fargo elementary schools have salad bars.

The effort has the potential to put students on a healthier path, into adulthood.

“Those are healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime,” Rieth said.