‘Taste Test Tuesdays’ offer De Soto students first bite of new treats

Amy Droegemeier, the De Soto school district's student nutrition director, serves up samples.

Amy Droegemeier, the De Soto school district's student nutrition director, serves up samples. by Stephen Montemayor

Before Amy Droegemeier could serve up samples of potential school lunch additions last week, to Riverview Elementary fifth-graders the De Soto school district’s student nutrition director first had to serve as emcee.

Three new — and, to some, unknown quantities — menu items would be doled out as part of the district’s ongoing Taste Test Tuesday tour, and Droegemeier had to preview the fare.

“Good afternoon, fifth-graders!” she said to the packed cafeteria. “I’m the lady responsible for setting up your lunches. If I hear any boos, you’ll be getting chocolate bugs and oatmeal.”

Riverview Elementary was the second school to play host to Taste Test Tuesday — eventually, Droegemeier said, all 12 district schools would see samples by year’s end.

Today’s samples?

Sweet potato fries. Ooh! Yay!

Egg rolls. Whoa!

Hummus. (Confused chatter).

“If you don’t want to try any of the samples, just say ‘no, thank you,’” Droegemeier said. “But you’re my brave fifth-graders, so I know you’ll give it a shot.”

Droegemeier then proceeded, with several cafeteria workers, to pass out the fries, egg roll slices and hummus with tortilla chip scoops to the students and solicited their reactions on the spot.

As with the first Taste Test subjects last month at Starside Elementary School, it took little time to convert the hummus skeptics.

Droegemeier pointed out Josh Padron, who Droegemeier thought boo’ed the hummus.

“Did you boo?” she asked.

“No! I eww’ed” he said. “I had never tasted it before. But it’s good, it’s good.”

Josh said he said the hummus tasted like a “spicy sauce” with hints of mustard and “different spices.”

Droegemeier then returned with a plastic bucket of sweet potato fries, which too received praise. Josh and the rest of his table flashed thumbs up after a taste.

“I’m in love with the sweet potato fries,” Lucy Graff said.

On her way to unload her tray, Lucy called the sampling “a privilege.”

If mention of samples recalls memories of strolling the aisles at Sam’s Club on the weekends, it’s not an accident.

Droegemeier, in her first year as the district’s student nutrition director, said her two sons, who also attend schools in the district, once asked her why they couldn’t also have samples in their cafeterias. With approaching changes to federal guidelines on what schools must serve for lunch, Droegemeier found a way to introduce some new items that will soon be appearing out of necessity.

Before the lunch period ended — the taste tests continued with each crop of students — Droegemeier put the offerings to a vote. By a show of thumbs, students would show their support for the potential menu additions.

The egg rolls gained near unanimous support. Sweet potato fries saw thumbs raised by nearly three-fourths of cafeteria regulars. When Droegemeier asked how many tried the hummus — which she revealed to be roasted red pepper-flavored and made out of smashed chickpeas — about half of the room raised its thumbs. All thumbs remained up when asked how many of those that tried the dip, liked the dip.

Among the requirements included as part of the new federal guidelines include weekly requirements of dark green and orange vegetables and legumes. The sweet potato fries, which will appear next month on De Soto district menus, go toward fulfilling the orange veggie requirement. Hummus soon may make its way to menus, too, as Droegemeier said the new legume requirement is more challenging.

She said bell peppers, asparagus and black bean burgers were among other considerations that also would be tested. Next up in a few weeks is De Soto High School and then Droegemeier’s off to Prairie Ridge Elementary.

“Let’s see what ends up on the menu,” Droegemeier said before the fifth-graders filed out and the fourth-graders filed in.

By Stephen Montemayor

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