Washburn Students Serving As District Guinea Pigs

Students are testing out food served at high schools next year.

Move over, Chairman Kaga. There's a new judge in town.

Or rather, judges.

Every Thursday for the last several weeks, hundreds of students have filed down to the cafeteria for what they've reportedly begun dubbing "Real Food Thursday." They're there to test out different recipes Minneapolis will be rolling out at every high school next year, along with revamped kitchens that will let schools cook most of their own meals on-site.

"We did a test about a month ago on a homemade pizza," Minneapolis Public Schools nutrition head Bertrand Webber told Patch. "We served it with a Caesar salad, and the kids absolutely fell in love with it."

With urging from principal Carol Markham-Cousins, Webber turned that one-time test into a regular affair. The next test, Webber said, was an Italian-themed lunch, with spaghetti, two kinds of sauce, and roasted squash with herbs. As at every experimental meal, students were able to serve themselves the vegetable; Webber and his chefs wanted to see if students would even take vegetables. Instead, they ran out.

In fact, the tests have been so popular with students that Washburn has stopped serving the traditional lunch options on Thursdays, and doubled the amount of experimental food available.

That trend has continued. When Patch dropped by Washburn on Thursday, the nearly 700 students who showed up for lunch were served roast chicken, roast potatoes, green beans with garlic butter, and salad with balsamic vinagarette. Plates left the serving area half- to three-quarters full of beans and salad.

"Nobody's telling these kids to do this," chef Larry Jones marveled as he watched students cycle through the lunch line. "Look. That's probably a cup and a half (of salad) she just put on her plate."

Wandering around the seating area while students chowed down, it turned out that while students were big fans of the idea of salad, they had hoped to see a creamier dressing like ranch, Caesar, or Italian. The chicken and potatoes got many thumbs up, though.

Of course, that's only what they said when the cook came around. If you're a Washburn student or a Washburn parent, what do you think about the test menus?

Jones took the criticism in stride, aggregating the information for future menu planning. After his rounds, Jones pulled up a big blue trash[can for what he called "the real test"—what students threw away. By his test, the chicken and salad were evidently quite popular, with hardly a shred of lettuce or spinach visible.

Eve Black May 04, 2012 at 01:12 PM
It's a great plan and my daughter and her friends love having this option of real and tasty food! Well done all who made this happen! Such a smart idea.
Eve Black May 04, 2012 at 01:20 PM
Also - they're not passive guinea pigs, they're vocal, animated test pilots!!!
James Sanna (Editor) May 04, 2012 at 02:32 PM
Haha fair enough.
Jesse Lykken May 05, 2012 at 01:09 AM
Hopefully the "experiment" will succeed and kids throughout the district will soon benefit from edible food. I further hope that lunch "hours" will be extended so that the kids have time to finish their meal without rushing. I wonder celebrity chef Jamie Oliver had a hand in this. He is traveling throughout the nation trying to get schools to provide healthier meals. Let's keep an eye on this. Hopefully by this coming fall ALL kids will be able to enjoy these meals, and have adequate time to do so.
James Sanna (Editor) May 05, 2012 at 01:52 PM
Nope, Oliver had no hand in this. But check out that MinnPost story Bertrand Webber's name links to. He's quite the gourmet chef!
Jesse Lykken May 05, 2012 at 09:32 PM
Thanks for the tip. Webber is an impressive fellow. Our kids are lucky to have him. I have long been hyper- critical of Superintendent Johnson, but if she can manage get the menus improved and the time to eat this good food extended, then I will gladly tip my Twins cap to her for a job well done!


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