ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – One taste test goes a long way.
Orange County Public Schools is using students to test potential healthy lunches.
The district's Food and Nutrition Services focus is on "Fresh From Florida" foods and sustainability.
According Senior Director of Food and Nutrition Services Lora Gilbert, part of getting students to eat healthy meals is honing in on the flavors they like, while limiting fat, salt and sugar. That's why students taste test items and give feedback.
News 6 visited Corner Lake Middle school as students were sampling several items, including a Nashville nugget wrap, Florida-grown starfruit, black beans, salad and chicken wings.
Gilbert says it doesn't matter how healthy food is if the students won't eat it.
Some students at the taste test tried starfruit and black beans for the first time. Gilbert said that's the goal: to expose kids to healthy foods they haven't tried.
"It's a healthy student, healthy community. Any time we can take something and the kids like it, we do want to spread that out to the parent," Gilbert said.
With the "Fresh From Florida" program, a different Florida harvest is featured monthly.
Gilbert said four servings of produce are offered daily. She said this proper nutrition is essential to kids' developing brains.
"We find that kids who eat breakfast, score better on tests, they have a better attendance record, fewer trips to the nurse and really their cognitive memory is better when they're well nourished," she said.
Gilbert said another focus within their department is on reducing their footprint. The district now uses compostable plates, paper products and utensils. She said last year this saved nearly 12 million Styrofoam containers from going into landfills.
After all of these improvements, Gilbert urges parents to encourage their children to try school lunches.
"And if they don't find anything on the menu they like, talk to their food service manager. We love to hear from kids and we really like to cater their tastes."