KCS Food Show helps shape cafeteria menus

Josh FloryOur Town Youth

It’s not often that students get to hand out grades, but recently they participated in a taste test that will help Knox County Schools shape its cafeteria offerings.

The 21st KCS Food Show took place in September at the Knoxville Expo Center on Clinton Highway. More than 60 food manufacturers offered samples to 1,200-plus students, who carried around grading sheets to highlight the products they liked the best.

Pyper Clevinger, a fourth-grader at Sterchi Elementary, stopped by a booth that offered a variety of Asian cuisine, including Tangerine Chicken bites on a toothpick. “It was really good,” she said, after trying a bite. “It was really sweet, but not really hot.”

The food samples covered a broad spectrum, from breakfast sausage pizza to waffle bites on a stick to pieces of Salisbury steak. Perhaps the most popular vendor was Mayfield Dairy, whose iconic cow statue loomed over the convention hall.

Neko Yoder, a fourth-grader at Sterchi Elementary, tries a sample at the KCS Food Show as Jake Owen looks on.

While it’s always possible to test new items at individual schools, Brett Foster, KCS Nutrition executive director, said the Food Show allows the district to get feedback on a large scale. Students were provided with a list of items before they came, and they assigned stickers to the menu items that they liked.

Foster said the feedback will sometimes lead directly to a new cafeteria item, while other times it will prompt the district to do additional testing on a food option. “It does drive the menu, and that’s the main reason for it,” she added.

It doesn’t hurt that the Food Show is a lot of fun for students and teachers. Sterchi fourth-graders Neko Yoder and Jake Owen hit several booths together, and Yoder tried snacks including the cheese bread sticks. “They were really good,” he said.

 Josh Flory is a multi-media specialist with Knox County Schools and writes this blog, Hall Pass, for the KCS website.

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