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A school lunch menu where students have a say

WASHINGTON — At noon on a recent Friday, students at D.C.’s Aiton Elementary School eagerly line up in front of a table in the cafeteria. On the table are small cups filled with something most of the students have never tasted: zucchini.

“We have Parmesan-crusted zucchini crisps, roasted zucchini and stewed zucchini and tomatoes,” Stacey Snelling tells the crowd of kids, who are there to sample the options.

It’s Fresh Feature Friday at Aiton — a day when students get to try a vegetable that’s prepared three different ways and tell the adults which one they want to see on their lunch menu.

“We have improved fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lower-sodium items [in schools], but what we noticed was kids weren’t familiar with these foods,” says Snelling, associate dean at the School of Education Teaching and Health at American University.

For the past two years, Snelling has been working with D.C. Central Kitchen to feature seasonal vegetables at eight local schools: four in Arlington and four in the District.

Gone are the days of mushy and tasteless steamed vegetables. The recipes served on Fresh Feature Fridays are prepared with a twist — all while adhering to the Healthy Schools Act standards.

Another Friday revealed students at the eight schools prefer their broccoli cooked Asian-style.

“We saw a great increase in the consumption of broccoli,” when it was served Asian-style, Snelling says. “We do need to find the right preparation method that alters it a little bit in order to get them to try it again.