Taste is King at Fresh Flavors

Isabel Hanewicz, Staff Writer

Over 230 elementary, middle and high school students from all across Hillsborough County gathered at TPepin’s Hospitality Center today to take part in Student Nutrition Service’s Menu Concept Taste Test, Fresh Flavors. The students, who were selected by their administrators and teachers to take part in the event, got to sample different cafeteria menu items that are in consideration to be put on the school lunch menu for next year.

“How many of you have heard your mom and dad say to you ‘try it’ about a food and you didn’t want to?” said Doctor Mary Kate Harrison, the general manager of Student Nutrition Services, to a packed ballroom of eager students. Many raised their hands, nodding in agreement.

“Well today, guess what I’m going to ask you to do?” she said, pausing for her answer.

A resounding wave of “Try it!” rang from the crowd.

The student’s input on the food, the main goal of the event, would help shape which items would appear in cafeterias next school year.

After each station, a student could rank the food on its appearance, smell, taste, and whether or not they would buy it on one of the many iPad minis set up around the ballroom, a new feature for this year.

Students tasted everything from breakfast foods such as a honey corn biscuit with honey butter, side items like a chewy granola bar with nuts and oats, and main meals like the Asian Pork Flatbread.

“I came back for seconds [of the burger] because I can’t resist it,” said fifth grader Sean Keane of Summerfield Elementary about the SmokeHouse burger, a chili covered hamburger with a whole grain pretzel bun.

Not every item got the stamp of approval. Other students, like fourth grader Kimberley Salinas, also from Summerfield Elementary, were not so enthused about some of the samples.

“I didn’t really like it,” said Salinas of the broccoli and cheese gratin. “Maybe if it was hotter, it would be okay.”

The teachers and other adults and administrators at the event also got to test out the food and provide feedback.

“The fish tacos were very, very good,” said Janet Hammer, the secretary of the Early Childhood program. “I like that it’s not fried.”

After students had finished their testings and ratings and the results had been tabulated, the top three foods were announced- Chicken N’ Waffles, a single waffle with maple syrup and chicken nuggets, Mexican Fiesta Pizza, a cheese pizza with Mexican flavorings, lettuce and tomato, and the “Tampa Favorite” dish of Chicken and Yellow Rice.

“I liked the syrup on the waffles,” said Tucker Gillette, a third grader at Gibsonton Elementary of the winning dish. “It was delicious.”

The event concluded with a goody bag giveaway, sponsored by Radio Disney, before Harrison’s closing remarks.

“I can’t tell you how grateful I am that you are all here today,” said Harrison prior to releasing the students. “It would not have any meaning if you all were not here. It’s really great that you got to come and give us feedback on [our food].”