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How do you get kids to eat cafeteria food? Let them have a say in the menu

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  • Jim Cummings/Glendale Elementary School District

Glendale Student Menu Committee HP

The cafeteria met with its harshest critics this week: students.

The 34 members of the Glendale Elementary School District Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council (STAC) met at a food tasting with nine different food vendors this afternoon to sample their offerings, and to give feedback to the District’s Food Services Department on what they should serve . . . and what they shouldn’t.

How do you get kids to eat cafeteria food? Let them have a say in the menu GlendaleStudentMenuCommitteeInside

Landmark third-grader Jada Finesilver samples whole grain egg rolls during a food-tasting at Glendale Elementary School District (GESD). Finesilver is one of 34 GESD students on Superintendent Joe Quintana’s Student Advisory Committee (STAC). The students sampled and rated foods from nine different vendors for possible inclusion on school menus next year. Photo courtesy Glendale Elementary School District

“Your feedback is very important to us,” GESD Food Service Director Shannon Gleave told the students. “Be honest. If you like something, let us know. And, if you don’t like something, let us know that, too.”

Each vendor featured two entrees and a side dish.

Among the items sampled today were chicken enchiladas, whole grain egg rolls (both chicken and vegetable), mini burgers with chipotle mayonnaise, pretzel bread hamburgers, fettuccini with alfredo sauce, boneless chicken wings, a jalapeno grilled cheese sandwich, pigs in a blanket, sweet potato fries, Santa Fe and cilantro rice, nachos, spaghetti and meatballs, a breakfast burrito with chorizo and cheese, chicken filet, three different kinds of yogurts and a whole grain coffee cake to die for (Okay, that’s an adult opinion . . . but it REALLY was to die for).

Students were asked to judge a food on its appearance, taste, texture and smell, to rate it good, bad or neutral, and to provide comments about what they ate. The students’ inner food critic easily rose to the occasion.

“They need to replace the fish sandwich with something from here,” said Milani Chieng, a fifth-grader from Glendale American who was munching on some shredded chicken with chili. “So far everything is good.”

So far.

“We’ll review the comments and take at look at what they liked. If the kids are overwhelmed with an item, we’ll put it on the menu,” said GESD Nutritionist Kara Peters.

The students’ comments will also be shared with vendors, and they’ll use it to tweak their items, said Christina Mitchell form Elite Associates.

“We definitely use what we find out to develop different menu ideas,“ said Advantage Waypoint’s Wendy Sahr. “We want to see what the students will try, and what they’ll come back for.”

Items that make next year’s menu because of today’s tasting will come with a “STAC Approved” label, an endorsement the students think will go a long way.

“If kids know other kids ate it and liked it, then they’ll try it too,” said Santiago Alvarado, a seventh-grader from Melvin E. Sine.

“It’s a great way to see what kids like,” said Gleave. “This was the first time we’ve done this, and we intend on doing it again.”