Kid-Tested Menu Items in Orange County Public Schools

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If there is one thing Lora Gilbert knows for sure, it’s that it ain’t easy pleasing 150,000 hungry kids every day. As senior director of Orange County Public School’s Food and Nutrition Services, she’s tasked with striking that delicate balance between nutritious and edible. “I don’t care how healthy it is unless the kids eat it,” she says with a laugh, but the truth is there’s no point in having kale on the menu if 90% of her students turn their noses up at it.

That’s why when it comes to menu planning she turns to the people who know kids’ palates better than anyone else — the kids themselves. And, she gets a little help from her friends.

For the fourth consecutive year, OCPS students and food service managers worked with award-winning chefs to add new items to school menus as part of the national Chefs Move to Schools initiative. On November 1, the program gave students the chance to move from school cafeterias to school kitchens to create new, healthy dishes with less sugar, salt and fat.

“The kids are the ones that will tell us whether they will eat it,” says Gilbert, who partners with local chefs and food service managers to guide students in their epicurean assignment. “They work together to come up with the new menu items that get rolled out all year. It works partly because our kids get to be part of the designing but also because we are blessed with really great chefs right in our backyard. We have so many great chefs here.”

New items included the Chicken Chili Plate, created by Chef Gary Jones; Funfetti Chicken Bowl, created by Chef Elizabeth Morvay-Leh; Food Truck Burger Sliders, created by Chef Ed Colleran (Universal CityWalk); Guacamole Beef Sliders, created by Chef Marcos Colon (Universal CityWalk Latin Quarter); Orange Chicken Noodle Bowl, created by Executive Chef Bryan Frick (Nestle Corporation).

“The key to the success of this program is that the chefs work with the kids and translate what they like into something that can be served in the schools,” says Gilbert, who also runs random taste tests and focus groups throughout the year to ensure the more than 29 million meals and snacks that are served each year hit the culinary mark. “Involving students in the creation of great tasting, nutritious food builds healthy eating habits that kids share with their entire families.”

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