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Students are food critics at tasting extravaganza

food extravaganzaTacos and dumplings and hummus, oh my! A group of culinarily adventurous fourth and fifth graders from M.L. King Academy for Arts Integration were the first group of SAISD students to taste test these dishes, and more, at SAISD’s fifth Food Extravaganza.


The annual event, which began at 9 a.m., was put on by the Child Nutrition Services and hosted at the Culinary Institute of America-San Antonio. Students tasted and rated a variety of foods that may, or may not be, placed on 2020-2021 District menus depending on the feedback of the student food critics.


“It’s special to have the Food Extravaganza in this great facility and have our K-12 students come to the Culinary Institute of America at The Pearl,” said Dr. Jennifer Sides, director at Child Nutrition Services. “We collaborate with the CIA so it is great to highlight that collaboration.”


Sides hopes that, with the students’ help, new items will be selected to be added to next year’s SAISD menus. All of the products featured at Food Extravaganza met federal- and state-mandated nutrition standards and are low in sodium and saturated fat.


“There are some interesting foods that we are very curious about this year,” she said. “The dill pickle nuggets, that’s one of the new trends – dill pickle-flavored items. I’m very curious to see how the students like that.”


King student Aaron Garza was a fan of the dill pickle nuggets. “Man, they were good,” he said. “They remind me of Chick-fil-A.”


In addition to the pickle-flavored poultry, 15 items, including locally made empanadas and cookies from Lux Bakery as well as two recipes developed by SAISD’s own Chef Jimmy, were on the taste testing menu.


While students give the majority of the feedback throughout the day, this is the first year that three SAISD food service managers were invited to take part in the event. Sides said that it is important to get the food service managers in on the taste-tasking action because they are the ones marketing the items to the students, encouraging them to try fruits, vegetables and other new foods.


“I have never been to one of these,” said Valerie Robles Rodriguez, food service manager at Will Rogers Academy. “Hopefully the kids will enjoy this once it comes to our schools. A lot of the kids aren’t introduced to this stuff at home so we do it at the school.”


The event continued throughout the morning, with students from Brackenridge and Sam Houston high schools as well as Lowell and Tafolla middle schools, coming to taste and rate the possible menu items.


“This is super rewarding,” said Adolfo Ramirez, Child Nutrition Services IT manager as he served locally made apple and pumpkin empanadas to the students.  “Having kids come over and see something like this and trying new foods, especially local foods, is pretty impressive. So far, they have had a lot of positive things to say.”


And as a thank you for help in picking next year’s menu items, Child Nutrition Services gave away three iPads to three students who attended the event.


Charlotte Young, fourth- and fifth-grade social studies teacher, accompanied the students to the Pearl.


"I love this!” she said. “It gives the kids a chance to see what might be on the menu, to taste it, and to vote on it instead of an adult choosing the menu for them. If they don’t like it, they are not going to eat it. If they have a chance to vote on it, and like it, they will eat it.”


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