January 30, 2013

De Zavala Elementary launches revamped lunch menu with healthier food

Fort Worth school dietitians worked with chef Lisa Wright to create healthier cafeteria menus that children would eat. De Zavala Elementary hosted guests, including Mayor Betsy Price, for a tasting and critique.

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FORT WORTH -- Budding foodies at De Zavala Elementary School have learned that it is not enough to describe dishes simply as good.

After months of tasting different foods being considered for a revamped and healthier school lunch menu, the children now describe food as flavorful, savory and delicious.

On Wednesday, the school hosted community leaders to kick off a new cafeteria menu that features more freshly prepared foods, fruits and vegetables and minimal processed ingredients. The changes are the result of a pilot program, "Food for Thought," a partnership between the Fort Worth school district and the city of Fort Worth.

School district dietitians and cafeteria staffers worked with Fort Worth chef Lisa Wright during the fall semester to tweak student favorites and introduce healthy fare.

Her position was sponsored by a donation from The Dannon Co., which has a Fort Worth plant.

The first thing Wright noticed was that the cafeteria kitchen had no burners, fryers or microwaves to cook food from raw ingredients. Instead, the kitchen is equipped with steamers and convection ovens used to heat and warm food. Some recipes were adapted.

"We tried to pick things that were known to the kids, but made from scratch. They're seeming to get more adventurous as we go along," said Wright, a personal chef and onsite caterer. "Some of the kids are still real apprehensive about the vegetables they're getting. But fresh grapes and fresh strawberries, they really love that."

A student Taste Testing Club tried out pizza rolls made with whole wheat flat bread; sweet potato fries made with cinnamon and cardamom; carrots seasoned with brown sugar; and spaghetti with turkey meatballs.

The club members worked to expand their knowledge of food and nutrition, learning where fruits and vegetables are grown and the benefits of eating healthy food, said Nadine Ibarra, a fifth-grade dual-language teacher.

Among the dishes served on Wednesday were roasted chicken drumsticks made with butter spray instead of oil, green salad with a yogurt ranch dressing, and mock mashed potatoes made with cauliflower and low fat sour cream.

Student council treasurer Rachel Martinez, 10, dug right into her chicken, saying she tasted lemon pepper seasoning on it. Rachel, a fifth grader, wasn't as excited about the cauliflower dish, describing it as just "okay," but eating it nonetheless.

Brendan Jorgensen, 10, a fourth grader, said he has learned to try new foods in recent weeks.

"Before, if it looked bad, it probably was bad," said Brendan, a fourth-grader. "But now, if it looks bad to me, I try it anyway and most of the time it ends up being good."

The pilot program will be studied by other campuses with the hopes of replicating dishes. Officials will track students' academic performance, grades and attendance, and compare data from the fall semester to the spring semester.

Jessamy Brown, 817-390-7326

Twitter: @jessamybrown

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