A sampling of students: Philly high-schoolers get chance to pick their lunchroom menu [video]

High school students from 7 Philadelphia high schools participate in the first annual student-tested food show where vendors showcase different options for their lunch menu. (Emily Cohen for NewsWorks)

High school students from 7 Philadelphia high schools participate in the first annual student-tested food show where vendors showcase different options for their lunch menu. (Emily Cohen for NewsWorks)

Unlike Thanksgiving feasts, school lunches don’t have the best reputation. So Philadelphia is trying a new tactic: let the kids shape the menu.

From nine high schools across the city, 160 students recently gathered for the first annual Student Taste Test Food Show.

The show featured 22 new foods that could find their way into the regular rotation as early as next spring.

Some offerings — such as buffalo chicken nuggets and ketchup infused with Sriracha — were twists on the classics. Others pushed into virgin territory, at least by lunchroom standards. Falafel, hummus, and Asian noodle soup all had their day before this most discerning court of consumers.

As students cycled through the array, they rated the foods on taste, appearance and other criteria. The district will collect the responses and weigh the feedback (pun definitely intended) when deciding what it should add to its cafeteria menus. 

The 22 foods at the expo were chosen from among more than 70 applicants, said Wayne Grasela, the district’s vice president of food services. All had to meet the nutritional guidelines established by the federal government during the Obama administration. And that’s partly why it’s more important than ever to get student input, said Grasela.

“As items get healthier — if the kids aren’t eating it — all it’s doing is going in the trash,” he said. “Tell us what you like … and that’s what we’ll put on the menu.”

The big winner of the afternoon appeared to be something called “cheesy meatloaf” — which sounded and looked more like traditional cafeteria food than the Indian curry being served just to the left of it. Many students likened the patty-shaped item to a McDonald’s hamburger, which all agreed was a very good thing.

Check out the video above for more reactions from students and scenes from the food show.

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