Picky eaters were few and far between in a cafeteria full of the city’s youngest food critics.
Elementary students at Minneapolis’ Lyndale Community School buzzed eagerly, sticking their hands in the air for small sample cups of this fall’s new dish: Kid Kimchi, a mix of locally sourced kohlrabi, carrots and purple daikon radish.
Fifth-grader Ayuub Mohamed took a whiff of the Korean side dish before trying his spoonful. Within seconds, he was wincing with a hand clamped over his mouth.
“It’s so spicy!” he said.
Three times each school year, Minneapolis elementary and middle school lunchrooms transform into taste-testing sites. The district puts new recipes up for sampling before unveiling them on school lunch menus.
Schools officials in Minneapolis hope the taste tests widen kids’ sense of food adventure and encourage them to analyze their taste buds.
“It’s really meant to be exposing our students to new flavors and creating a positive environment where they can be adventurous eaters and take risks, and just think really critically about what they’re eating,” said Kate Seybold, the district’s Farm to School coordinator.
Students are urged to think beyond liking or disliking a food to consider flavors and textures in a dish, Seybold added.
The same strategy plays out nationally in lunchrooms from Florida to Ohio to Texas as schools expand food territory beyond usual kid appetites. St. Paul Public Schools started a taste-testing program last spring, and this fall, students tested a salad made with arugula, local apples and sheep’s milk cheese.
Minneapolis’ Kid Kimchi will be on future school menus, Seybold said. It’s made with all local vegetables grown by farmers within 75 miles of Minneapolis, according to the recipe fact sheet.
The district has been putting menu items to the test for a few years. Previous dishes include Far Out Farro salad, UnBEETable Hummus and Tic Tac Taco Salad. Kid Kimchi may get a student-created name change before its debut.
“They’re loving all the different stuff, mostly,” said Nancy Rutherford, a food service assistant at the school.
Budding foodies brave enough to sample new dishes were rewarded with stickers, and maybe even second helpings.
“Can I get another one,” fifth-grader Rowayda Noor asked after she gobbled down her first sample.
A Sriracha kick
The same dish was tested at several district schools last week in taste tests sponsored by the Wedge and Linden Hills Co-op.
Some of Lyndale’s reviews echoed Mohamed’s assessment: super spicy. That’s because the kimchi dressing includes a Sriracha kick, plus rice wine vinegar, garlic, puréed ginger and applesauce.
Heat wasn’t a problem for others.
“I could eat a whole Sriracha bottle,” said fifth-grader JaMya MacIlravie.
The dish set second-grader Jude Kresl’s mouth on fire, though he said he did eat some of it.
Another second-grader, Sahuur Abdi, slowly chewed the kimchi. Then she spit it out — too hot, she said — and joined Mohamed in chugging milk.
A couple seats over, second-grader Siclali Valles Mendoza gave her balanced opinion: “I like the flavor,” but it was too spicy, she said.
So will the kitchen tone down the heat? The district said it examines the way dishes are received to see if any tweaks should be made. Employees appreciated the students’ sense of adventure in experimenting with new flavors.
“I was surprised at how open-minded they were,” said Brad Thompson, who teaches ESL at the school.