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Tuesday, Sep 26, 2017
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Taste-testing students sample new school menu items

RIVERVIEW - Rowan Gould bopped from table to table in Spoto High School's cafeteria, tasting a bevy of items that might be on the school lunch menu next year. When the 10-year-old found something she liked, she would gobble it up and offer a glowing review. She found the Southwestern pizza "awesome." The roasted chicken with honey barbecue sauce was "bursting with flavor." The macaroni and cheese? It was the best she's ever had; she had no clue it had butternut squash hidden inside it.
The broccoli cheddar soup, however, brought one of those wrinkled-nose faces. So did the fish tacos. One taste, and into the trash they went. "They looked really good, they smelled really good, but they tasted terrible," Rowan, a fifth-grader at Schmidt Elementary in Brandon, said of the tacos. She and nearly 200 other Hillsborough County public school students were invited to Spoto on Tuesday morning to be taste testers for 27 new menu items that might find their way onto the trays of 180,000 students in the next school year. There were no chicken nuggets or french fries to be found. "We want honest feedback," said Mary Kate Harrison, general manager for student nutrition for the school district. "And kids are brutally honest." Students were asked to rate each food item's appearance, smell and taste with "love it," "like it" or "dislike it." They also could write comments about why they liked or disliked what they tasted. Judging from the written comments, the sweet-potato salad was not a big hit. "It's gross," one student wrote. "Awful," someone else offered. "It's nasty," still another said. There were similar comments about the spinach lasagna. "I spit it out," said Alexander Masias, a classmate of Rowan's from Schmidt. "Everyone did." Logan Naeher, a third-grader from Valrico Elementary, was a fan of the grilled Hawaiian pizza. He likes pizza, and he likes pineapple, but he didn't think he would like the two of them together. "You can't really taste the pineapple," Logan said. "It's really good." Unlike Rowan, however, he was not a fan of the so-called "harvest mac & cheese." "I didn't really like it," he said. "It tastes like it was microwaved after it's been really cooked." The first item that Terrell Byrd, 12, tried with a group of friends was the buffalo chicken wrap. "I love it," he said between bites and singing Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" song. The taco tornadoes also were a hit. "It's like an ice cream cone with meat!" gushed 10-year-old Matthew Sweeney of Schmidt Elementary. The taco shells are whole-grain bread that is shaped like either a tornado or an ice cream cone. Gone is the mess of the regular taco shell that breaks apart while being eaten. "Best so far," one student wrote. "The taste is mouth-watering," another said. Rowan and the other students like having a voice in what might shape their future menus. "I feel like I am really powerful," said the youngster who even liked the yellow and orange carrots. "I feel like I have an opinion now."

rshaw@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7999

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