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MEXICAN FOOD GETS A BIG `SI’ FROM STUDENTS

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If public school students never have to choke down another slab of gravy-coated Salisbury steak for lunch again, they may have some Philadelphia high-schoolers to thank.

Twenty students from Olney High School sampled authentic Mexican cuisine this week in a government taste-testing experiment aimed at improving the quality and diversity of school lunches.The verdict? Mystery meat is out, Mexican is in.

That could mean a welcome change for 25 million pupils at 92,000 schools across America.

In its search for interesting, healthy new menu items for public school lunches, the U.S. Department of Agriculture flew in one of Mexico's leading chefs to prepare six meals for the group of honors English students.

The food that replaced the hamburgers, pizza and Tater Tots wasn't nachos, tacos or chimichangas. And salsa, guacamole and sour cream didn't drown the food the way ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise sometimes do.

These were authentic Mexican dishes prepared by Arnulfo Luengas, executive chef of Banamex, Mexico's national bank. Turkey enchiladas, chicken with green sauce, rice and spinach, rice pudding and baked bananas were a few of the taste treats.

It may have been the first time cilantro ever spiced up a school lunch.

Students rated each dish, and additional comments were encouraged.

Amber Then, a 15-year-old junior, was pleasantly surprised.

"I thought it was going to be really hot and spicy," she said. "But I was able to try everything. I enjoyed every bite."

Each dish conformed to recent Clinton administration proposals to limit fat, sodium and cholesterol in school lunches by increasing vegetables, fruits and grains.