EULESS -- Coby Maple studied the choices on the salad bar, pausing to examine a deep red vegetable and a creamy white one.
Beets and turnips, a lunch worker told him.
The fourth-grader at Wilshire Elementary School in Euless shrugged and loaded them onto his plate, along with salad greens, carrots and cherry tomatoes.
"I've never had a beet or turnip," said Coby, 10, nibbling on pieces of both. "They're not bad, and vegetables make me run fast, so I don't mind eating them."
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As part of a plan to promote health, introduce children to fresh fruits and vegetables and wean them off junk food, the Hurst-Euless-Bedford district is adding salad bars to elementary schools.
The bars have opened at Wilshire and South Euless elementary schools. Bedford Heights, Meadow Creek and Lakewood will have them next school year, and more are on the way.
The salad bars have proved popular, school officials say.
Before Wilshire's salad bar opened, students refused to eat vegetables, opting instead for chips, pizza and french fries, said Penny Breitenstein, cafeteria manager. Now, they are piling vegetables onto their plates.
"It's the power of choice," Breitenstein said. "They like getting to walk through and pick out what they want."
Choices include traditional salad bar offerings like lettuce, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and carrots, but the schools also offer more unusual items, such as edamame and jicama, in addition to the beets and turnips.
Coby said that he has tried just about every fruit and vegetable offered out of curiosity but that his favorites remain cherry tomatoes and carrots.
For Reagan Gross, a fourth-grader who was eating broccoli, edamame and carrots, the salad bar reminded her of restaurant salad bars, which she enjoys.
"It's really healthy for us," said Reagan, 9. "I feel less tired after lunch now that I don't eat chips."
The school does not have data to show whether students are performing better in class, but Josh Leonard, assistant principal, said he is encouraged.
"Kids are eating less junk food," he said. "I cannot see how a child who eats a plate of vegetables does not perform better in the afternoon than a kid who eats an ice cream bar."
With rising food prices, adding salad bars is not inexpensive, said Mary Beth Ratzloff, director of child nutrition. Equipment alone for each school costs about $2,000, and the district's food prices are up roughly 14 percent from the same time last year, Ratzloff said, mostly because of increased costs of fresh produce.
Students pay $1 to eat only at the salad bar. The school lunch, which costs $2.30, includes the salad bar.
School officials are studying whether salad bars are feasible at junior and high schools.
"The bottom line is we want to provide healthy options," Ratzloff said. "This exposes children to fresh foods, and we hope they will take this information home and educate their parents. It improves their knowledge and appreciation for good food."
Sarah Bahari, 817-390-7056