Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

March 13, 2014

The results are in: chicken and pizza yay, veggies nay

No surprise: Students prefer pizza over vegetables

By Dustin Luca

---- — Rest assured, kids — pizza and chicken are staying on the lunch menu. But it’s the other stuff you don’t like — green beans, perhaps? — that will be seeing some tweaking.

The Andover School District’s Nutrition Department recently completed a survey of students’ favorite — and not-so-favorite — lunch options, and the results weren’t all that surprising.

“Pizza was one of their top choices,” Nutrition Director Gail Koutroubas said. “Chicken was obviously another top choice — in any form.”

Koutroubas said the popularity of chicken can be credited with the fact that the schools do not serve highly processed options of the white meat.

“We don’t serve chicken nuggets at all,” she said. “We bread our own chicken and cook it on-site.”

The survey, which garnered around 300 responses from Andover households with school children, did, however, point to several areas where improvements could be made, Koutroubas said.

The largest among them — vegetables.

“We’re always having a hard time with the beans, trying to get them to eat the beans,” she said. “Some of the roasted vegetables we’ve had a little bit of push-back on.”

But, much to the disdain of students, vegetables are still a required part of school lunch under federal standards, Koutroubas said. She said the nutrition staff will now look at ways to improve how vegetables are roasted and served in hopes of making them more palatable to the students.

“We’ll try to tweak a couple of the recipes,” she said. “We need to make sure they’re exposed to those fruits and vegetables. It can’t all be pizza and chicken.”

Part of the changes could involve reducing the size of portions and joining unpopular foods with other options. For example, the half-cup of peas — another unfavorable menu item — could become a quarter-cup paired with an added quarter-cup of sweet potato.

While the DNA of lunch may well be changing in the months ahead, how the offerings line up on a calendar is being fine-tuned as well, according to Koutroubas.

“It’s a six-week cycle menu,” she said. “We’ll weed out some of the items that haven’t been successful and try to integrate some new items. What we’re looking forward to next year is having a fall cycle menu, then a winter cycle menu, then a spring cycle menu.”

School breakfasts are also getting a closer look. Another survey about to be conducted will solicit feedback on the breakfast menu offerings as well as the program in general, while also spreading awareness for it.

“We advertise it, but I don’t know the parents know about it,” Koutroubas said.