It was no surprise that the Seattle Public Schools students liked personal pan pizzas (83% approval rating) and breaded chicken tenders (a tie,) even though they were healthier versions than they may have had in the past. It also wasn’t a shocker that lentil Sloppy Joes came in last in a recent taste test, with just 22 percent of students giving it a thumbs-up.
But there were some interesting reactions when around 150 students from South Shore K-8 and John Hay Elementary were invited in to sample potential new cafeteria menu items. More than half approved of the chicken tikka masala (54%,) a chicken spring roll came in at 61%, while General Tso’s chicken with fried rice had serious fans at 81%. A John Hay student commented that the chicken nugget won him over because “it tastes real.” Although a butternut squash curry only got a 40% overall approval rating, those who liked it had strong feelings: “FAVORITE” wrote a student from South Shore K-8. “”Amazing! The best!” ruled a Hay tester.
The district’s nutrition services department will use the results to help decide which test entrees get a spot on upcoming school menus. It’s all part of the hugely complicated stew of school lunch requirements, including new mandated nutrition standards, budget squeezes, and the need to find dishes that kids will actually eat. Seattle schools have been working through those hurdles for years, coming up with some innovative programs in the past, from offering more culturally diverse entrees to transforming their prefab-beef-crumbles-chili into a popular vegetarian version made with fresh vegetables and herbs.
The Nutrition Services department has some new programs in place this school year, including serving a free (grant-funded) mid-morning or mid-afternoon fresh fruit or vegetable snack daily to students in 11 schools where more than half the students qualify for free or reduced price lunches.
Here’s a look at the current national political battles behind school lunches. The lunches are, as a Seattle Times report noted even a few years ago, “arguably the most regulated, thought-about, fought-over and highly planned meal in America.”