Providing nutritious food that young consumers will eat requires a little testing. That’s why the past seven years the Killeen Independent School District Nutrition Services staff have assembled a group of students to act as a tasting focus group.
Selected third- through 12th-graders from Saegert Elementary School, Patterson Middle School and the KISD Career Center gathered at the district’s new Career Center Wednesday for the annual taste test.
Students tasted 27 items and recorded their preferences on a page that offered smiling, frowning and confused faces to choose from and space to write in comments.
Those who don’t visit school cafeterias might be surprised by the choices — raspberry vinaigrette, whole grain breadsticks, hot and spicy whole grain boneless chicken, garden veggie burgers and sweet potato-crusted fish, to name a few of this year’s taste test items.
Any item that received 85 percent acceptance or better on the taste test will make the cut automatically and enter the district’s cafeterias next August, school nutrition director Steve Murphy said.
“We need tasty food that is nutritious,” Murphy said, explaining the reason for the annual taste test. About 75 percent of the district’s elementary students eat the food served in the cafeterias.
District staff attended a food show in September, where they tried a wide range of offerings and chose which to test on students.
Nutritional standards are increasing.
“We’re looking to improve the quality to restaurant quality,” Murphy said, noting that what used to be a compressed chicken product is now breast or thigh meat.
School cafeterias must provide 100 percent whole grain bread and must offer fresh fruit and vegetables and stay within minimum and maximum calorie standards. A new law specifying sodium requirements will take effect in 2014.
“It’s amazing they have this choice,” said Mona Odom, school counselor at Saegert Elementary School, one of the few adults who joined students in the taste test. “It’s great the district cares enough to give them a part in the process.”
Armando Molina, a Saegert third-grader, claimed that no one likes eating more than he does. He said the chicken breaded breast fillet was his favorite. Later, he said the ultra grain elbow macaroni with cheese sauce was his new favorite.
“It’s fun — the food is yummy,” said fifth-grader Jethro Layson. “It’s like we’re choosing what other people will eat.”
“It’s a great opportunity to help,” said Keyauna Billups, a Harker Heights High School junior and student at the Career Center. “It’s been good.”
She said she especially liked the Caesar dressing and the chicken nuggets. She also said she didn’t often eat in the cafeteria, but was impressed with the variety.
“They enjoy it and it gives them ownership in the process,” Odom said. “Someone said they liked an item but not enough to put it on the menu. I thought that was insightful.
“Someone also said they don’t eat in the cafeteria, but now they want to try it.”