Brentwood students get taste of healthy foods at fair
Tanner Wells went back for four helpings of the beef lo mein.
The cafeteria food at Brentwood Middle/High School was just that good, the 14-year-old eighth-grader said as he “inhaled” the 51-percent whole-grain pasta mix that filled two small paper plates in front of him.
“It's fantastic,” Wells said, as he tried to persuade his friends to eat the new fare from the buffet that lined the school cafeteria wall on Friday afternoon.
Whole-grain pepperoni pizza, Gen. Tso's chicken and ravioli filled the smorgasbord during the Brentwood Borough School District's first Healthy Food Fair, held last week to introduce students and families to different foods and let students weigh in on what they'd like to see on their school's menu.
“Our lunches, they just keep getting healthier and healthier,” said Judy Bourne, the district's director of food services, who has worked in Brentwood for one year.
“We thought if the kids get a little bit of a buy-in, it will drive up participation.”
Federal guideline changes requiring school lunches to be healthier and include sales of fruits and vegetables triggered a “small decrease” in lunch purchases in Brentwood, Bourne said.
Students haven't seemed to mind whole-grain pastas and breads — required to be 51 percent whole grain this year and 100 percent whole grain by next school year, Bourne said.
It's having to buy a fruit and a vegetable with each meal that hasn't been such an easy sell.
Tanner and his friends ate all of their cafeteria purchased lunches on Friday — except the salad. Each one had a different complaint about the salad of lettuce and tomatoes: It was soggy, crunchy, hard. It was lettuce. They didn't like it.
The schools, though, are required to serve certain types of vegetables once a week: dark-green leafy, red/orange, starchy, beans and other.
“They want the french fries, the Tater Tots, the mashed potatoes,” Bourne said.
Students will end up buying a piece of pizza or snack, a la carte, which means districts are not reimbursed for a meal.
“We're just trying to find some other ideas, some fresh ideas,” Bourne said.
In comes the “Healthy Food Fair,” where students were given tickets and asked to vote on the foods they liked. Bourne, then, plans to sell the fan favorites in the cafeteria at lunch on a regular basis, she said.
There was a wide variety of options for students to choose from, including sweet-potato-crusted fish and sparking juices in containers resembling energy drinks. A boxed-juice-style drink, even, was made from vegetables — a tricky way to get the youngsters to consume veggies without even knowing it.
Students helped themselves to Betty Crocker double-chocolate oatmeal bars and Goldfish graham crackers that can be dipped in yogurt and served with juice or milk for a tasty, and healthy, breakfast.
Making the food look appealing also is important.
“People have an opinion that cafeteria food is slopped on the plate,” Bourne said. “We take pride in it. We want to make sure it looks good and tastes good.”
Vendors from across the region use fairs such as Brentwood's to showcase their products to schools and students, alike.
Representatives from Colteryahn Dairy served cups of white, chocolate and strawberry milk to the middle and high school students.
Giving them a variety is important, said Becky Taylor Gallagher, Colteryahn Dairy's marketing and industry-development coordinator.
The youngsters, many of whom, studies show, have stopped drinking milk by middle school age, are intrigued by new flavors, Gallagher said.
“I've had a lot of kids today tell me they're going to start getting the strawberry,” she said.
Taste is the most important when it comes to school lunches, said Nathan Mingle, 13, an eighth-grader. But the food also needs to look appetizing for him to try it.
Eighth-grader Easton Klein, 13, said he'd like to see more options during lunch.
The students don't mind if it's whole grain — or healthy — as long as it meets their sight, taste and smell tests.
Stephanos Mavroides, 14, also an eighth-grader, said he was surprised to learn the pepperoni pizza he had just eaten contained healthy ingredients.
“It tasted better than school pizza,” he said.
Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or firstname.lastname@example.org.