Liberty County public-school students won’t find high-calorie junk food favorites like chili cheese fries in their school cafeterias anytime soon, but they may find some new, healthier choices taste-tested by their peers.
The school system’s nutrition department is giving students at all grade levels an opportunity to try some new recipes. Taste tests are being conducted this month, to determine which side items and vegetables should be introduced to students who eat school-cafeteria meals at breakfast and lunch.
School nutrition coordinator Jessica O’Leary said about six to seven taste tests had been conducted so far, and expects to run about 20 more tests. Some schools will permit two such judgings.
“I am trying to bring in new recipes to keep the menus new and exciting while sticking with our home cooked roots,” O’Leary said. “All the items are cooked from scratch and so far have had a very positive reception both from staff and students. I am trying to get students excited about school meals.”
The school nutritionist said one new menu item that found success, especially among young students, was macaroni and trees, which is whole wheat macaroni, cheese and broccoli. Another new breakfast recipe the schools have tested with students is a maple apple French toast bake, she said.
O’Leary said having students try tastier versions of menu items can increase the servings of fruits and vegetables they are willing to eat. She added that going back to preparing “home-cooked” meals at schools helps avoid the added preservatives one would find in pre-packaged foods.
“You know what’s going into it,” O’Leary said.
Liberty County High School junior Jonathan Odria eats school-cafeteria prepared lunches daily.
“I think it’s fine,” Odria said, adding, “They could make some improvements.”
Odria was one of about 30 students at LCHS that taste-tested a spinach and strawberry salad topped with balsamic vinaigrette. Less than 10 students raised their hands when asked who liked the proposed side dish.
O’Leary said LCHS, Bradwell Institute and the district’s middle schools have salad bars in their school lunchrooms. Younger students are not ready for salad bars yet, she said. They tend to take too long to decide how what they want in a salad, O’Leary explained.
The school system follows USDA nutrition guidelines, which requires the nutrition department to plan and prepare meals that limit calories and sodium while still meeting the daily required amounts of fruits and vegetables served, according to O’Leary.