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Finding a Nutritious, Delicious Lunch isn’t Always Easy

Second-grader Madison Hall thought the food on her plate looked good. It resembled mashed potatoes, she said, and she assumed it would taste like mashed potatoes, as well.

“It looked good to me before I tasted it,” she said with a sour look on her face. “I said, ‘what is this?’ Someone said it was cauliflower. I didn’t like it. But I’m picky with my food.”

Madison was one of many students at Ozark East Elementary who taste tested the mashed cauliflower with garlic and parmesan. The majority of the students agreed with Madison — they didn’t like it. However, there were a few students who said they’d give it another try.

“I thought it was OK. I would eat it again,” fifth-grader Braxton Chism said, admitting he was a little nervous to take that first bite.

Students at East and South elementary schools tasted the cauliflower while students at North and West elementary tried sweet potatoes. At the Junior High, students sampled succotash.

“The purpose was student feedback for new items next year,” Director of Nutrition and Food Services Jo Haraldson said. “The kids really enjoyed it.”

Haraldson said it’s often a struggle to offer students the foods they like and comply with nutrition standards. The taste testing events help introduce new foods and gain valuable feedback.

“The regulations have become more strict than ever,” she said. “I attend as many trade shows as possible looking for palatable choices. I also collaborate with fellow directors several times a year where we share ideas regarding different recipes and what works in other areas. If it’s a big hit at another school, I’ll give it a shot.”

The mashed cauliflower and succotash were not big hits. The sweet potatoes, however, were more well-liked.

“We may implement the sweet potatoes but none of the items were big hits,” Haraldson said. “The red-orange category is a hard one because there just aren’t that many items, which is why we may try the sweet potatoes. However, we will revamp the recipe to make it more appealing.”

According to nutrition standards, each week schools must serve vegetables in the following categories: Dark green, red-orange, starchy, legumes and other.

“It’s a struggle to be able to offer variety that the kids like,” Haraldson said.

Schools must offer a minimum of seven grains to K-5 students, but not more than 10. Grades 9-12 can have as little as 10 but not more than 12.

“Trying to make our meals fit into all of these categories definitely makes it difficult at times,” Haraldson said. “When you throw in the calories, fat and sodium regulations, it can really be a challenge.”

That challenge is why Haraldson wanted to host the taste testing events. And while the foods might not have been a big hit, it did force students out of their comfort zones.

“It went as expected,” Haraldson said. “I chose those items because they were different, and I thought they were items kids don’t normally eat. The kids were very excited to share their opinions.”

Students at East Elementary may not have been fond of the garlic and parmesan cauliflower, but they are fond of school lunches as a whole.

“My favorite is ham and mashed potatoes and gravy,” fifth-grader Erich Farmer said.

“I like the barbecue chicken dippers,” Braxton said.

Students at Ozark East Elementary School taste test mashed cauliflower with garlic and parmesan.