(Courtesy of D.C. Public Schools)

District students head back to school today, and at a few D.C. Public Schools, they will walk into brand-new or brilliantly renovated facilities. But at many more schools, students will find smaller but significant upgrades: new salad bars.

This year, 27 DCPS schools will feature cafeteria salad bars, about double the number from last year. It’s the latest upgrade to school meals under nutrition chief Jeff Mills, who was hired by ex-chancellor Michelle A. Rhee to overhaul the school system’s dismal food service.

Last year, Mills earned plaudits for encouraging schools to start vegetable gardens and for banning sugary flavored milk. He also worked on less sexy projects like improving food sourcing and upgrading school kitchens to do more than simply reheat prepackaged meals.

This year, under Chancellor Kaya Henderson, Mills said his local sourcing efforts have kicked into overdrive.

Over the summer, he said, he tested more than 30 local greens in search of the best roughage for the salad bars. Ingredients in the traditional cafeteria meals have been freshened up, as well. Next month, students will be offered locally grown nectarines, mushrooms, watermelons, tomatoes, arugula, squash and spinach.

Mills has high hopes that the salad bars will help students develop “natural palates” without a taste for added salt, sugar and fats. And, he adds, “it gives students more options. They can be creative with what they’re putting together.” Also, by adding another line in the cafeteria, Mills said, it helps with efficiency: More kids get to eat more quickly come lunchtime.

At 10 high schools, the new salad bars will be featured in an “Eat More Salad” campaign. Mills is looking for volunteers for one week starting next Monday to help students build well-portioned and nutritionally balanced meals at the salad bars. (You can sign up to help at Serve DC.)

Here are the schools the feature salad bars (with “Eat More Salad” schools marked with asterisks): Brent Elementary School; Bruce-Monroe Elementary School @ Park View; Burrville Elementary School; Capitol Hill Montessori @ Logan; Garfield Elementary School; Key Elementary School; Lafayette Elementary School;Nalle Elementary School; Peabody Elementary School; Powell Elementary School; River Terrace Elementary School; Shepherd Elementary School; Watkins Elementary School; Browne Education Campus; Columbia Heights Education Campus*; Walker-Jones Education Campus; Deal Middle School; Stuart-Hobson Middle School; Ballou High School*; Banneker High School*; Coolidge High School*; Eastern High School*; Ellington School of the Arts*; McKinley Technology High School*; Phelps Architecture, Construction & Engineering School*; Wilson High School*; Woodson High School*.

And here’s the salad bar menu for September:

DCPS High School Salad Bar Menu, August 2011