Cheney students taste some new foods


John McCallum

Salnave Associated Student Body vice president Dylan Straley hands a student a plate containing samples of whole-wheat pita bread, hummus and mangos, with treasurer Madilynn Richardson waiting in the background to hand out more as part of the district’s taste testing program. Also helping out were ASB president Maisie Short and secretary Kassie Brennan.

So far the consensus among Cheney elementary school students is that when it comes to new foods, raw garbanzo beans ain’t making it.

At least that’s the results of a taste testing program school district officials have implemented this year, thanks to a grant from the national organization, Action for Healthy Kids. The district received $2,000 per school – Betz, Salnave, Windsor and Sunset – to bring quarterly samples of foods to students they might not normally experience at home.

The grant also enabled district wellness coordinator Laura Martin to enlist a couple of high school students, Solomon Springberry and Sarah Corean, to create a video about the taste-testing program. The video is shown to classes taking part prior to the testing, and afterwards the students head to where they normal get or eat lunch, passing by a table where Associated Student Body members hand each a small paper plate containing new items to sample.

Salnave Elementary School third-grade teacher Peggy Haslebacher said the ASB officers play an important role in the taste testing, not only passing out food but sampling it before other students and creating and posting materials promoting the program.

“The ASB officers have been asked to be the leaders,” she said.

Last Friday during lunch at Salnave hummus, whole-wheat pita bread and mangos were on the sampling menu. After students taste the food they are surveyed about which they liked the most.

“We’re trying to give the kids a voice in this,” Martin said. “It’s fun to see because the kids are totally embracing new foods.”

Taste testing is just the latest installment to the district’s push towards providing more healthy nutrition. What started with providing milk alongside soda pop in vending machines at the high school in 2002 has progressed to healthy, nutritionally balanced meals cooked from scratch.

Martin said they instituted a program similar to the taste testing last year called “Vegetable Fear Factor” patterned after the format of the popular “Fear Factor” TV show. The district also broadened its approach to include students’ parents through a program called “Snack Attack” at family events where families try out healthy snack options rather than traditional fare like cookies and chips. Teachers are also no longer handing out candy as a reward to students in favor of healthier options.

“We’re trying to provide different ideas, healthy ideas,” Martin said. “We’re trying to let families know that you can celebrate and still be healthy.”

The district has partnered with the Empire Health Foundation on several programs, including a childhood obesity initiative. The district has also received a $44,999 grant for fiscal year 2013 from the Farm to School organization to help bring in more locally grown foods.

Students at all four elementary schools sampled foods in the fall and last week in winter. Martin said they will have one more taste testing in spring. After students are surveyed, the top vote getters for favorite foods will get a place on future salad bars.

Just don’t look for raw garbanzo beans.

John McCallum can be reached at


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