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November 18, 2016

Taste test: Philly students rate foods destined for the lunchroom

Students tested samples ranging from falafel to noodles

Schools Food
Zaire_White_Trecia_Gibson_11182016 John Kopp/PhillyVoice

Zaire White, left, and Trecia Gibson, display the "Rebel Crumbles" they made as part of Rebel Ventures, a youth powered enterprise that developes healthy foods for Philadelphia's public schools. Rebel Ventures was one of 17 vendors selected to participate in a food show, where high school students helped select foods that will appear on the School District of Philadelphia's menu.

About 160 Philadelphia high school students trekked to the administration building Friday afternoon for a unique exam.

But for once, they were not the ones being tested.

Their task? Taste a variety of food samples to help determine which fare to add to the district's menu, perhaps as soon as the spring.

"I think it's really interesting," said Charmaine Gibbs, a senior at South Philadelphia High School. "Usually, they don't allow students to pick what we like to eat. This is a good opportunity. It's also a good opportunity to meet other students and get their opinions on what they like to eat. I like the variety of choices."

In an effort to promote healthier eating, district officials asked vendors to present a variety of options, including vegetarian and ethnic foods. Students tested samples ranging from falafel to noodle bowls to peanut-free, sunbutter and grape jelly sandwiches. There also was veggie burgers, hummus and turkey crumbles.

A Chinese dish earned high praise from a group of students from Philadelphia Learning Academy North.

"Their food was very good," senior Mecca Cooper Oliver said. "They put the sauce, beans and pepper together. The know how to please their customers."

John Kopp/PhillyVoice

Students from Building 21, a high school in Philadelphia, display a noodle bowl they tasted during a food show at the School District of Philadelphia administration building on Friday.

As the students passed from vendor to vendor, they were asked to rate each sample on its look, taste, texture and smell. A school bell periodically rang, sending students to the next vendor.

In one case, students also served as a food vendor. Rebel Ventures, a youth-powered enterprise that develops healthy food products for schools, showcased its new apple cranberry crumbles, dubbed Rebel Crumbles.

Zaire White, a sophomore at Parkway West, said the crumbles were generating a good response. They'll be available at Philly public schools after the winter break.

"People are asking for the recipe for Thanksgiving," White said.

Seventy food vendors applied to participate in the food show, which the Philadelphia School district seeks to make an annual occurrence. From that pool, the district selected 17 vendors, who presented 22 food options.

The students' ratings will be taken into account when the district determines additions to the menu.

"Basically, who better than the students we serve to help us make decisions about what we put on the menu," Senior Vice President of Food Services Wayne Grasela said. "They're rating them. The items that rate well are mostly likely going to see their way onto the menu in the spring and, of course, into next year."