When I was a student, most of my lunches came from home — a trait I shared with a couple of the young students I sat with Wednesday at the KISD Career Center.

We were invited to taste some potential new menu items for the next school year.

Like my new friends, I left thinking that if my elementary school cafeteria served items like those offered Wednesday, I would definitely buy lunch more often.

School nutrition has changed a lot in the last few years, in part due to new regulations mandated by the federal government in the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.

Starting next fall, schools have to serve more fruits and vegetables, whole grains and higher quality cuts of meat.

Those changes prompted the Killeen Independent School District Nutrition Services staff to take a closer look at menus.

Killeen ISD does a taste test each year to get student input on the lunch and breakfast menus, but this year saw more changes than usual as the new requirements kick in.

That meant this year’s group of students — from Saegart Elementary, Patterson Middle and the KISD Career Center — as well as a few adults, had more items to taste. Twenty-seven, to be exact.

Trying a mix of salads with different dressings, bread sticks, chicken strips, hamburgers, pasta and fish, it was clear how much better school food tastes, and a little surprising how well liked the healthier items were.

While the hands-down favorite among the fourth-graders sitting with me was what I expected — a chicken nugget (with whole grain breading), it was encouraging to see them prefer a whole grain wheat flour breadstick to a whole grain white flour one.

They even kind of liked a veggie burger made with rice, and loved macaroni and cheese with whole grain pasta.

While tuna salad and fajita glazed fish tempted my palate, the girls only said “eeww,” which made me laugh, because that would have been my exact reaction as a 9- or 10-year-old.

It’s a good thing the district offers different menus for different age groups, including faculty and staff, because the adults at my table (myself included) loved a raspberry vinaigrette dressing the fourth-graders found too sour. We also liked some spicier chicken strips the girls deemed “too hot for kids” in the comment section of forms we filled out.

Killeen ISD school nutrition director Steve Murphy said items receiving 85 percent endorsement in each group would make it on menus in August. From where I sat, there will be a lot of new options at elementary, middle and high schools next fall — all of them nutritious and tasty.

It’s a winning combination that will hopefully go a long way toward helping students grow into adults who make smarter, healthier food choices.

If I’d had so many options available as a child, I definitely would have left my brown bag at home.

News/Design Editor M. Clare Haefner enjoys cooking for family and friends. Contact her at chaefner@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7551.

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