While their friends joined the long line for a hot lunch at Eastview Middle School in Bartlett, Emmy McIntosh and Gianna Tummillo, both eighth-graders, made a beeline for the school's new salad bar to fill their plates with fresh vegetables and fruits, as well as a protein in the form of chunks of ham.
Eastview is the first in Elgin Area School District U-46 to roll out a salad cart, which was introduced to students on Tuesday in time for National School Lunch Week.
"The salad bar is a lot healthier than the regular lunch," Gianna, 13, of Bartlett said. "I have been trying to eat healthy every day, and I can control what I eat at the salad bar."
On Wednesday, Emmy's lunch consisted of watermelon, croutons, lettuce and cucumbers, as well as a small carton of milk.
"It makes a big difference because this is a lot fresher," said Emmy, also 13, of Bartlett.
Richard Reed, food services manager at Eastview, said the salad cart is another example of the school's healthy initiative to get students to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables at every meal. The school also offers a frozen yogurt and ice cream stand, as well as a snack bar that's full of healthy, on-the-go options like bagels and fruit. The school is working with Testa Produce and Gordon Food Services to bring even greater variety to the school.
So far, the salad cart has been a hit with students. On the first day, more than 40 students made their own salad. That's three times the number of pre-made salads the cafeteria typically sells in a day, Reed said.
"This is like at a restaurant where they can make their own food," said Reed, who secured a grant through the national 'Fuel Up to Play 60' program to pay for part of the cart. "It makes it more exciting for them."
Joey DeFrancesco, an eighth-grader from Bartlett, said he is trying to avoid the typical hot dog or hamburger for lunch.
"I am trying to eat healthy and I had it yesterday," said Joey, 13, who made a salad with lettuce mix, cucumbers, cottage cheese, green peppers, ham and grated cheddar cheese with a side of watermelon. "It is really good and has a lot of different stuff. I like the variety and you get to pick the stuff you want on it. If you have a salad they made, sometimes you don't want all the stuff that's on it."
Claudie Phillips, the district's director of food services, said the district plans to add a salad cart to every middle and high school before the start of the next school year.
"We want our customers to have as many choices as possible," Phillips said. "We want to have them take a fruit and vegetable and not just the fruit. If it looks inviting and healthy, it's not a problem for them to take a vegetable option, too."