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Program urges kids to try healthier foods

November 13, 1998

Tasting graphBy BRYN MICKLE / Staff Writer

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




Pizza, chicken nuggets and fudgie brownies are sure-fire winners with the elementary school lunch crowd.

But rice, peas and pasta? That's another story.

"We have a whole generation of kids who don't know how to eat," said Sharon Walker, a Washington County Schools area manager for food and nutrition services.

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"When it comes to a crunchy fish sandwich versus pizza, the pizza always wins," she said.

It's Walker's hope that a new experimental lunch program will help change that.

For the past four weeks, more than 1,000 students at Boonsboro, Clear Spring and Winter Street elementary schools have been asked to try everything from fresh broccoli to coleslaw with pineapple.

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Students who dared to spoon the unfamiliar foods past their lips were rewarded with prizes, including colorful pencils and erasers and the chance to win bigger items such as a Beanie Buddy monkey.

Bribery? Certainly, said Walker, but the long-term goal justifies it.

"This gets their young taste buds ready now to eat healthier later when they have to make choices on their own," she said.

Carly Wennick samples new foodsThe state-sponsored program, Choices Campaign '98, concluded Thursday with an offering of pasta salad - a concoction of noodles, peas, carrots and green beans covered in Italian dressing that didn't go over too well with the students at Boonsboro Elementary School.

Few students attacked the pasta with the same zest they showed for their hot dogs and blueberry cobbler.

While most of the children gave the pasta salad a chance, the bulk of the 10 pounds dished out ended up in the lunchroom trash.

"It was OK, but not great," said Ryan Robinson, 9, of Boonsboro, adding that he probably wouldn't try it again.

Kevin Murphy, 11, of Boonsboro, thought it was pretty good and said he might eat it again. But once was enough for 9-year-old Laura Brown of Keedysville.

"I didn't like it," she said.

Walker was not surprised the pasta salad failed to spark a lot of student interest, but expected the presence of vegetables to be its downfall. Instead, most students complained the dressing was too tart and suggested the cooks use a ranch or French dressing.

Marlene Powell, a Boonsboro Elementary parent who helps coordinate nutrition at the school, said the big favorites with the children were the sandwiches - roast beef, cod and egg with cheese.

The pasta salad and the coleslaw with pineapple didn't go over well, she said.

Washington County Schools tried a similar program last year at Bester Elementary, but threw in a few more offbeat food items including low-fat brownies, a rice-and-vegetable casserole and a shepherd's pie made of ground beef, vegetables and mashed potatoes.

This year, Walker decided to concentrate on more items that were already on the lunch menu.

One of the most popular items from last year's experiment that became a mainstay, however, has a secret that might be better left unsaid.

The key to those fudgie brownies the children love so much? Pureed prunes.

"The kids don't know about the prunes," Walker said.

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