By SDCN Editor
San Diego, CA–Bell Middle School ‘student food critics’ tasted and rated everything from plant-based nachos and roasted corn dip to chow mein with Kyoto-style veggies and strawberry smoothies made with a bike-powered blender during the ‘Taste of San Diego Unified’ event that will help decide next year’s cafeteria menu items.
About 150 students sampled more than a dozen new recipes during the culinary event where sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders shared their opinions on sample menu items, which also included yogurt parfaits with roasted apples and kung pao chicken.
“We want to give our students an opportunity to engage in our menu-planning efforts and try new flavors,” said Food and Nutrition Services Director Alicia Pitrone Hauser. “This event is a great way to recognize National Farm to School Month and celebrate our student voices, community connections, and local food.”
All San Diego Unified students have access to free school meals. Cafeteria menus include locally-grown fruits and vegetables, free-range meats, and meatless options. Parents are encouraged to send their children to school early so they can take advantage of free breakfasts, in addition to lunch.
Observing the student food critics were representatives from the Board of Education, Superintendent Dr. Lamont Jackson, the district’s Food and Nutrition Services Department, and officials from six of the largest k-12 food service providers.
“We thrive as a school district when students are respected and included in meaningful shared decision-making. Since it’s our students who are eating the school meals, it only makes sense to listen to their input when planning their menus,” Superintendent Jackson said.
During the event, students also learned about the food cycle of school meals – where the food comes from, how it is prepared, and what happens to the leftovers.
Meals at San Diego Unified center around the salad bar, and students were surprised to learn how close to home the fruits and vegetables they eat every day are grown. Through the Farm to School program, many components of school meals come from local and regional farms.
Another surprise – the scratch cooking. From homemade salsas and salad dressings to oven-roasted chicken drumsticks, more homestyle cooking and preparation are happening in school kitchens than students realized.
With all of the food options available at school, there are often leftovers. Instead of feeding the landfill, students learned that through the Love Food Not Waste program there are options to collect food scraps for composting in school gardens, share tables to pass along unopened items, and food rescue programs to donate unused food to local hunger relief organizations.
Last year, California became the first state to implement a statewide Universal Meals Program for school children. San Diego Unified’s Food and Nutrition Services serves more than 86,000 nutritious meals every school day, all at no cost to families.