Students from throughout the Killeen school district spent Tuesday morning taste testing and rating potential menu items for the 2014-2015 school year.
Twenty-two students from second to 12th grade tasted 30 breakfast and lunch items, checking a box to indicate if they liked or disliked the sample. A menu item is added to next year’s school lunch menu once it garners 85 percent approval.
“We’re taking our primary customer, our students, and putting different items to the test,” said Steve Murphy, director of school nutrition for the Killeen Independent School District. “Before letting students taste test we were just going to shows and adults were taste testing, but our tastes are different than the children’s. We’re zeroing in on what the children like.”
Murphy said the district suffered a hit in the number of children eating lunch in the cafeteria when the federal government implemented its 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which sets nutrition standards for schools.
He said the school saw a decrease when the number of students purchasing school lunches dropped from 4.8 million to 4.7 million.
The standards require students be given lunches with whole grains, low-fat milk, and a serving of fruit or vegetables.
“The problem with the whole grains is that children aren’t used to seeing the brown bread and brown pizza crust,” Murphy said. “Now, what we are trying to do is put out items with white whole grain to kind of disguise it, so they are eating nutritiously but at the same time they aren’t seeing all the brown.”
Randy Lewis, regional purchasing specialist, said manufacturers are working to combat the drop in school lunches with the new implementations.
“When the schools see a drop in the number of students eating school lunches, the manufacturers also see a drop,” he said. “Manufacturers are constantly working to meet the guidelines and please their target audience, which in this case are the students.”
Some of the options students tested Tuesday were fruit juices, whole grain breakfast sandwiches, oatmeal cookies and various spaghetti recipes.
The taste testing was held at the Killeen Independent School District Career Center.
Murphy said administrators attend a multiregional show to “pick out” items for students to taste test.
Killeen ISD students have been taste testing menu items for the past five years and are picked at random by school principals to represent a complete sample of the Killeen ISD student population.