Orange County Public Schools keeps food for students fresh

Orange County Public Schools is working to keep lunch options fresh for 215,000 students, as they head back to classes for the 2019-2020 school year.

“We try to figure out what the latest food trends are, and then we kick it out to the students and let them taste test,” said Lora Gilbert, the senior director of the food and nutrition program for Orange County Public Schools.

For the last 10 years, Gilbert said the district has relied on students to taste test dishes before they are rolled out to students district-wide.

“They’re also pretty critical, and so they’ll tell us the nuances that we forgot or the flavors that they’re into, and then we’ll take that back into our kitchen and tweak the recipe,” she said.

Gilbert said the goal is to make healthy food that students will actually eat.

She said, “If they like potatoes, we want to know what kind of potatoes and what kind of flavor. We’re really interested in figuring out what kind of form they want it in and what kind of dips they like,” she said.

Gilbert said taste-testing reduces the number of complaints about the food, and they don’t always get it right on the first try. 

“We’ve been working on hummus for about five years and it just did not go over very well. We’re using real tahini sauce now and making it fresh in our kitchen,” Gilbert said.

This year, the district is rolling out several new dishes, including a chicken hacienda dish and a Nashville hot chicken nugget wrap with a cucumber sauce.