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California's Panama-Buena Vista Unified School District announced that it is partnering with local growers Sun World International and Pandol Bros. to pilot a salad bar program at its Stonecreek Junior High.

A special ribbon-cutting ceremony was held to commence the program, which aims to improve nutrition and increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables among students through creative salad bar offerings at lunchtime.

With overweight and obesity rates among children on the rise since the 1980s, improved school nutrition has been a major focus of educators and industry alike, especially in California’s Kern County, where California Physical Fitness Testing has demonstrated that a higher percentage of the county’s kids have an unhealthy body composition.

A 2009 public health report from the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine concluded that schools need to add as many as two servings of fruits and vegetables daily to meals in order to meet children’s basic health requirements, and research has shown that students will significantly increase their intake of fruits and vegetables when offered a variety of choices through a salad bar.

The salad bar program at Stonecreek will feature two salad bar units donated in partnership by Sun World and Pandol Bros.

The school district’s nutrition services manager, Marilou Onaindia, has created a series of themed salad bar menus, which all offer salad and at least two choices of fresh fruit.

"The salad bar program is a creative way to give our students choices at lunchtime that will increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables and will provide a platform for education about healthy eating," Ms. Onaindia said in an Aug. 23 press release. “We are aiming to help our students develop healthy eating habits that they will take beyond the lunchroom and into their daily lives both now and as adults.”

Sun World and Pandol Bros. partnered to donate the salad bar to Stonecreek Junior High as a result of the produce industry campaign “A Salad Bar in Every School,” led by United Fresh Produce Association, of which both companies are members.

The campaign, administered by the United Fresh Foundation Center for Health & Nutrition, relies on the personal involvement and charitable commitment of produce growers, distributors and marketers to raise private funds for donation of salad bars to schools across the country.

“Healthy habits start young, which is why Sun World and Pandol Bros. together are locally championing the Salad Bar in Every School campaign,” Sun World Chief Executive Officer Al Vangelos and Pandol Bros. CEO Dave Devers said in a joint statement. “Assisting with the Stonecreek pilot program is our small part in helping make fresh fruits and vegetables more readily available for local kids.”