Abstract From the perspective of child-focused nutrition research, the analysis of the school cafeteria culture and environment is critical. Most children eat at least one meal at school per school day, thus elementary schools are a good setting for influencing the early development of healthy eating habits. The salad bar in particular has gained attention as a means of increasing fruit and vegetable consumption. The purpose of the present study was to provide insight about the types of items children choose or do not choose from the salad bar. Our aims were to document elementary school children's food selection patterns by examining photographs of 2903 cafeteria trays. Our results show students in this study took very few items – and a substantial number did not take any at all. We examined three factors, gender, grade, and item placement, in relation to food selection. Gender was the most significant factor, with girls being more likely to choose both fruits and vegetables. Students in lower grades were more likely to select vegetables and to choose more of them. Finally, item placement did not affect choice. Our findings lead us to suggest the importance of integrating information about fruits and vegetables into the school curriculum and that schools strongly consider which items to offer because our results indicate children consistently do not choose certain items and probably do not conceive of them in the context of the adult concept of a salad. Finally, because a child's choice of food is not always a simple act we suggest ethnographic research on how children perceive and use salad bars would provide important insight into the value of retaining or expanding salad bars in elementary schools.
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