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Children chattered as they arrived in the cafeteria and went to their assigned tables. It was the Friday before a three-day weekend, the aroma of barbecue was in the air, and it was lunchtime.
The day’s lunch menu at Bluefield Intermediate School was barbecue sandwiches, corn on the cob, stewed apples, salad, milk and a banana or apple. A new item, spinach soufflé, was on the lunch line, too. Several students had brought a lunch from home.
Some school systems across the country have been leaving a healthier new federal lunch program because too much money is being lost, according to the Associate Press. Children have been refusing to eat items such as whole grains, vegetables and fruit. Mercer County is still participating in the program giving county school systems access to lower-cost food.
Most of the children filing in for lunch at Bluefield Intermediate School were eating the day’s menu. The barbecue tasted good and the corn on the cob — a whole ear of corn — was also favorable and not overcooked. The stewed apples had cinnamon; the children had two choices of dressing — Italian or ranch — with their salad.
The spinach soufflé was a new item. It was spinach and cheese, and tasted good, too. Some children were willing to try the new vegetable item, and some were not so willing.
Gyzelle Martin, 9, listed the menu. She said the food was good. And what was her favorite part?
“The apple,” she replied.
Her classmate Leya Smalls, 8, knew which menu items she looked forward to when lunchtime arrived.
“Pizza!” she said over the conversations filling the cafeteria. “And I like the chicken bits. I do not like the sandwiches.”
Raymond Bergin, 8, said he enjoyed school lunches. “It’s really delicious, and I really like the breakfast. I like the pizza.”
Another student, Raelyn Eggleston, 8, likes the pizza too. Raelyn also wished the cafeteria would serve cookies.
Eight-year-old Bryce Gamble liked the pizza, but didn’t like the lasagna. He hoped to see a cookie item, too, like cookie dough ice cream.
Head cook Lisa Davis said preparing food for children had some challenges. The first job is to make breakfast and lunch visually appealing to the students.
“If it doesn’t look good, they’re not going to eat it,” Davis said.
To the best of Davis’ knowledge, Friday was the first time the spinach soufflé had been offered. Not many children were taking it, and others took only a few bites. Cooks ask the custodians to watch what the children throw away at the end of a meal in order to get an idea what they were eating and what was being rejected.
Lasagna, spaghetti, pizza, and pepperoni and cheese rolls are especially popular.
“Those are made fresh,” she said of the pepperoni rolls.
Children emptied their trays and turned in their silverware when lunch was over. Some had eaten almost all their lunch while others still had full trays. Bananas and apples were untouched in some cases. One girl kept her banana, and soon returned to the garbage can to throw away the peel.
Dr. Janey Thornton, deputy undersecretary for the USDA’s Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, told the Associated Press the agency had not determined how many school districts had dropped out of the program. Mercer County Schools officials were not available Friday.