Success Stories

Replacing Unhealthy Cafeteria Items with Fruits & Vegetables

School Wellness

Salida School District | Salida, Colorado

Setting the Stage: Establishing the Local School Wellness Policy

In 2008, when a new school nurse began working in the Salida School District, most employees were unaware that the district had a wellness policy. The original policy was written and adopted in 2006, but the district did not have a wellness committee to implement programs and activities. The new school nurse took the initiative to set up a wellness committee with the goal of developing a new policy that could meet the needs of the district’s schools.

The new committee included parents, teachers, principals, the district superintendent, school nurses, and community members. They started by asking schools to complete CDC’s School Health Index, a self-assessment and planning tool, to evaluate their existing health policies and programs. The committee used the results of these assessments to update the district’s wellness policy and submitted it to the school board for approval.

At the same time the district’s wellness policy was being revised, the Colorado Health Foundation gave the city of Salida a grant to educate its residents about healthy eating and to enhance and promote the local food system and community food resources. These efforts inspired the school district’s wellness committee to include goals of adding more fresh fruits and vegetables to school meals and building a school garden. To help meet these goals, the district applied for and won a Garden-to-Cafeteria grant to hire a food service director and build a school garden.

The grant was funded by LiveWell Chaffee County, the Colorado Garden Foundation, the City of Salida, the Chaffee County government, Nestle USA, the Colorado Parks and Recreation Association, the Captain Planet Foundation, and Safeway, Inc. The Salida School District, City of Salida, Chaffee County, and several residents and local businesses also made in-kind donations.

The district also partnered with LiveWell Colorado, a nonprofit organization committed to reducing obesity in Colorado. Representatives from this organization served on the wellness committee and helped review and revise the new wellness policy.

Taking Action: Activities to Meet Local School Wellness Policy Goals

School Meals

To ensure that all foods and beverages provided on school grounds met or exceeded federal standards, the district’s food service director created a 2-year plan. This plan aligned with the wellness policy’s call for school meals that would include age-appropriate portion sizes, local fresh fruits and vegetables, and at least one serving of whole-grain food on 3 or more days a week.

To prepare for these changes, the food service director arranged for his staff to participate in a 2-year, college-level culinary apprenticeship program. Every 4 weeks, a new set of cooking skills was introduced to the staff to teach them how to cook meals from scratch.

Salida schools also added salad bars at lunch every day and began serving whole-grain pastas, made-from-scratch chicken nuggets, and homemade soups made with vegetables from the school garden. The food service director’s creativity and passion helped the district add a variety of new healthy food items to school meals, and students have been supportive of the changes.

Nutrition Education

The district’s Garden-to-Cafeteria program helped create an ideal environment for nutrition education. The program started in 2012 as a collaboration between LiveWell Chafee County, Guidestone (an organization that promotes local food), and the Southwest Conservation Corps. It used the Salida Middle School garden to teach environmental and agricultural education. Additionally, fruits and vegetables from the garden were used in school meals.

The middle school’s quarter-acre garden has 10 raised beds, 8 inground beds, 10 fruit trees, a pumpkin patch, a gourd tunnel, and winding pea trellises throughout the site. Middle school students and children from the early childhood center are the most active in the garden because of its location, but students from across the district are invited to participate.

During the summer, students who participate in district-sponsored recreational activities are also asked to sign up to learn about the garden. Students can watch the foods grow and see the raw foods transformed into healthy, colorful meals in the cafeteria. Extra produce is sold at a local farmers’ market to provide additional funding for the garden program. District partners are raising funds from other sources so the garden can be expanded in the future.

The district also partnered with Guidestone to create an education program that integrated garden-based lesson plans into the curriculum for grades K–12. Science, health, and fitness teachers used these lesson plans to teach students about nutrition.


The district’s food service director stopped the sale of potato chips, ice cream, and other unhealthy à la carte items in the middle and high school cafeteria and replaced them with salad bars. These changes and others, such as the culinary apprenticeship program and the addition of fruits and vegetables from the school garden, have increased participation in the school meal program. For example, the average daily number of elementary school students who are eating lunch at school has grown from 180 to more than 300.

Sourced from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Putting Local School Wellness Policies into Action. Atlanta, GA: US Dept of Health and Human Services; 2014. Available at