Fullerton students wanted more vegetarian lunch options so they started cooking up a new menu
When Fullerton School District Superintendent Robert Pletka led a focus group asking third graders what improvements would enhance their educational experience, the answer was unanimous.
“The students have requested more vegetarian items on their lunch menu,” said Nancy Wikes, nutrition consultant for the district.
And it’s the students who are devising the options.
A cooking competition was held at Ladera Vista Junior High School of the Arts on Tuesday, May 21, where six teams of students in an advanced culinary class each created a meal.
There are a few vegetarian choices within the district already, standbys such as pizza and bean burritos, but the students took their menu planning to another level cooking up pesto pasta, vegetarian chili, macaroni and cheese, nachos and a concoction of beans and rice dubbed “Crazy Mix.”
“I want more vegetables in my school because I want the kids in our schools to be healthy and strong,” said Orangethorpe Elementary third-grader Sara Nooristani.
Nooristani and another third grader who were looking for more vegetarian options sat on the panel of 11 judges that did the taste testing to decide what freshly prepared vegetarian dish will be added to the lunch menu starting in the fall. The panel also included Pletka, school board members, Ladera Vista officials and the school chef.
The meals were judged on taste, appearance, originally and the table decoration.
Each meal had to meet the district’s nutritional standards and include fruit, vegetables and a dairy item.
The meals also had to be prepared in no more than five steps and at a maximum cost of $1.50 per meal.
And the winning dish?
A prepared-from-scratch bean dip with guacamole, tomatoes, lettuce and cheese and freshly made chips. It was plated with the other required items.
“Today we were really nervous, but we’re just happy that we won,” said Ariana Tapia, a member of the five-person team of chefs. “It feels good because we had a lot of trouble on the test run.”
The students spent three months preparing for the competition. The winners will be recognized at a future school board meeting.
“They were all so close to being number ones,” said Kristen Kristin Montoya, who has taught culinary classes at Ladera Vista for 14 years. “We are so proud of this class. It’s beyond anything I’ve ever thought.”