Porterville students sample cafeteria food options at district’s first-ever food show

Students from Porterville Unified will have a say in next year’s cafeteria menus thanks to the district’s first Food Show

PORTERVILLE – Porterville Unified students had a chance to sample cafeteria food options from nearly two dozen vendors and decide for themselves what will be on next years’ menus at the school district’s first Food Show. 

The event took place on April 6 and was organized by the district’s Student Nutrition Services Department. It was held in the gymnasium at Porterville Military Academy, where 23 vendors set up tables to offer around 300 elementary, middle and high school students samples of different cafeteria food products. 

“The goal is to allow the students to have a say in their menu items for next school year, because I need to know from them what they like and what they want. It’s their menu, their choice,” said Olga Perez, Student Nutrition Services director. 

Perez said she and her staff sample products at similar food shows and wanted to bring the experience to Porterville’s students. 

“We attend food shows all the time, but it’s not going to matter if I like something and the students don’t like it. So I wanted to bring the food show to the students,” she said. 

After sampling the foods, the students completed surveys on computers stationed at each table in which they rated products and provided feedback. 

“They use the computer systems better than any of us could, so I’m impressed with that,” said Nicole Loza, who was there providing samples of foods like egg bites, turkey sausages and pizza from manufacturers represented by food service agency KeyImpact. “It’s been so organized. You can tell the school district really cares about putting things on the menu that kids love.”

Feedback from the surveys will be used to craft menus for the 2022-2023 school year, said Shane Rabena, the Student Nutrition Services department’s central kitchen manager. 

“A lot of the vendors are bringing out new items, just expanding the kids’ palate and giving them different things that we normally wouldn’t,” Rabena said. 

One of these vendors was Cynthia Otto of C. Otto Foods, who provided students with samples of plant-based meat alternatives. 

“There’s been some kids that have never ever tried plant-based, but at least they’re tasting it,” Otto said. “It’s been a lovely experience.”

Jack Kobayashi of Nippon Shokken, a company that supplies authentic Japanese seasoning to school districts and supermarkets, was there providing samples of chicken teriyaki to students. 

“I’ve gotten some good feedback from students. I think this is good for us and for the students too,” Kobayashi said. 

Students were excited at the prospect of choosing their own menu options, Perez said. 

“Everywhere you looked you saw nothing but excited faces,” she said. “If they have a say in their options and choices, I think it’s going to be a better experience for them. I want them to feel like they had a part in selecting the menu.” 

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