Fast casual salad chain Sweetgreen, known equally for tech-forward initiatives and its emphasis on fresh greens, wants to change young students’ relationship to their vegetables. The Washington, D.C.-based chain announced this week it has expanded its Reimagining School Cafeterias program, which it does in partnership with AmeriCorps entity FoodCorps.
Sweetgreen has pledged $1 million to the program, which aims to get healthier foods into school cafeterias and at the same time introduce children to new foods and flavors in the hopes of getting them excited about healthier eating.
The program consists of three different modules. The Tasty Challenges let students try different fruits and veggies prepared in different ways, then vote on their favorites. Flavor Bars offer kids self-serve sauces and spices to add to their existing meals. School Cafeteria 2.0 sees students leading discussions in their schools around what school lunch should be and how it can improve.
Sweetgreen and FoodCorps tested each of the modules at a separate school during the pilot phase of the Reimagining School Cafeterias program. The expansion will incorporate learnings from the pilot phase into programming for the 2020–2021 school year at 50 schools across the U.S.
With relaxed nutrition rules around things like sodium content and the introduction of whole grains into meals, the U.S. public school cafeteria remains one of the country’s biggest food challenges. Overhauling this broken system will take more than a few companies stepping up where government regulations aren’t. For example, Teens for Food Justice is a NYC-based organization that works with schools to teach hydroponic farming techniques to youths and also supply cafeterias with fresh greens. Another program, The Lunch Box, is a program by the Chef Ann foundation and provides free tools — from digital menu planning to inventory forecasting to budgeting — for school administrators and foodservice directors to bring healthier foods into their cafeteria lunch programs.
Sweetgreen has influence among not just foodies but also in the tech world, in which the chain has one foot solidly planted. The hope is that bringing some of its digital know-how and its ethos around healthy eating could influence other fast casual chains to get involved and give the beleaguered school lunch a little more help.