Families Critique School Food

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Provided by Prince William County Schools (PWCS)

Excitement was evident for newcomers and veteran participants alike during the 2019 Food Show held at Colgan High School on May 2, as School Food and Nutrition Services (SFNS) staff introduced a fresh format for their hungry arrivals. In PWCS schools, what students think about food matters. Every spring they get a chance to weigh in on what will be on the lunch and breakfast menus for the next year.

Gone were the paper rating sheets on clipboards and various food stations which attendees visited; evaluators at this year’s show were seated and served restaurant-style, recording and entering their data at laptop stations or via QR codes on their own mobile devices.

Each attendee found a souvenir cup at their place to take home as a memento, and every table held a carafe of water and a basket of freshly baked bread, made from scratch by SFNS staff, just as it is in school cafeterias. Servers delivered several options for testing: on the breakfast plate were overnight oats, blueberry bagel, and a green smoothie; the sides plate held a spinach cobb salad, confetti collards, and a honey lime fruit toss; the entrée plate included a breaded chicken dill bite, a grain bowl, and two types of cheese bites. For dessert, there was “nice” cream, a dairy-free version of ice cream.

Covington-Harper Elementary School music teacher Jennie Nichols tweeted her appreciation of the event: “Wow @PWCSNutrition! The food show was scrumptious, the event was extremely well-organized, and all I can think of is having more “nice” cream! Our students and staff are so lucky to have such quality food and creative meals!”

“I think it was a wonderful meal and I do look forward to seeing a lot of these foods on future menus,” wrote one student judge. “The salads were yummy. I liked all of the entrées, the breakfast was awesome, and the dessert was really yummy.”

Once the results were tallied, winning selections were two of the breakfast options, overnight oats and the green smoothie, which is a blend of avocado, pineapple, spinach, yogurt, and cinnamon; and the grain bowl entrée, made up of wheat berries, celery, peppers and carrots, dressed in hummus and served with naan.

“We have about 25 of our cafeteria managers here,” said Adam Russo, director of School Food and Nutrition Services, in a video taken at the event. Russo came to PWCS two years ago following 20 years in the restaurant business. “We do a lot of scratch products now. We’re able to control the ingredients that go into the food…and to control the nutritional density.”

Divisionwide, school cafeterias serve an average of 25,000 breakfasts and 60,000 lunches each day.

“We have supper at almost 20 locations now,” said Russo. “In Prince William County Public Schools, 14 percent of our scholars live below the poverty line….so making sure that they are registered for free- and reduced lunch takes that burden off of families.”

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