SPS taste tests future lunch menu

Published 10:00 am Friday, April 5, 2024

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Last week, Suffolk Public Schools saw the school community come out to taste-test new food for its future menu. In the division’s first Food Festival and Show, held on Thursday, March 21, at Kings Fork High School, SPS parents and students were treated to over 15 participating vendors with various food options in consideration for the 2024-25 school year.

One of the many vendors was Wild Mike’s Ultimate Pizza. In between serving families, Wild Mike’s Ultimate Pizza Director of K-12 Northeast Sales Diana McCarthy talked about their “clean label” pizza with 51 percent whole grain. Likewise, she discussed being a part of the food festival.

“This is a great opportunity to see what the students and the community want and get their feedback on what’s being served and what could be served in the future on the menus,” McCarthy said.

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General Mills was also in attendance, showcasing their food products. General Mills Virginia Account Executive Christopher Babbin says taking part was a great way to promote SPS’s lunch program while showing the “diversity” of using multiple products. Babbin also says he hopes families won’t shy away from certain food brands due to their labels.

“A lot of times some of these labels are a lot healthier than you think,” Babbin said. “So sometimes it’s just seeing it and knowing it’s two grain, knowing it’s one grain, knowing it’s a healthy choice and a smart snack for a kid nutritionally can really help.”

The schools also showcased their own Fork Farms hydroponic systems, which support school-grown hydroponic lettuce. SPS Coordinator of Nutrition Services Tricia Kastelitz talked about using the technology to help provide healthy salads to students.

“We have one at each of our high schools and at the CCAP [College and Career Academy at Pruden] Center,” Kastelitz said. “It takes about 35 days to go from seed to this size lettuce and we put it right on our students’ trays about once a month at each of our high schools.”

On how he found out about the festival, Father of three Vladimir Berezovskiy says he got an email from SPS and noted not wanting to miss the opportunity for his kids and himself.

“Everybody’s having a great time, we’re loving the food [and] we’re excited about the options being added to the menu going forward,” Berezovskiy said at the event. “Seemed like a fun thing to do, and I love free food!”

SPS Director of Food and Nutritional Services Lawrence Whiting discussed the festival’s mission of allowing parents and students to select various options for next school year’s menu.

 “A lot of different [types] of menus as far as plant-based items, and chicken and pizza and some other items that we’re really trying to decide on whether those things go on the menu,” Whiting said. “The way we do this is we let the kids try it out and the parents, and if they decide they like it, we’ll put it on the menu and if they don’t, it doesn’t make the menu.”

The festival also saw regional support with Chesapeake Food and Nutrition Services Director and School Nutrition Association of Virginia State President Larry Wade, Sr. as well as Hampton City Schools Food and Nutrition Services Director Edwina Forrest in attendance for the festival. Both spoke positively about working with SPS for the event, with Forrest noting the festival helps students experience different food opportunities.

“This allows them to come to the stations, give their input and just give the input to those in charge at Suffolk Public Schools of what could potentially be on their tray,” Forrest said. “So you get the by-ins first so we know that we have happy customers when they come through our serving line.

SPS Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III thanked the families who came out to the school’s first food festival. Likewise, he gave credit to the innovation of Whiting and his team in making the festival a reality.

“When you see a food festival indoors in early spring, that’s different [from] what you normally see in the early summer,” Gordon said. “But what it also shows is that the Food and Nutritional Services department is listening to the feedback they’ve received from surveys and they’re trying to be creative in getting real time feedback from families, especially students and parents on maybe some things that we can do next year that’s different.”

Gordon continued.

“The fact that we have so many vendors that wanted to partner with this event, shows the strength of his leadership, shows the innovation that’s happening in the school division and more importantly, people are having fun while they’re doing it,” he said. “So I really think that is a huge step in the right direction.”