The food, inside aluminum foil pans, was arranged side by side on a table stretching across the cafeteria. Each pan of various fruits and vegetables was sorted in alphabetical order: A for apples, B for black beans, C for carrots, and further down the line, U for udon.
The A to Z lineup of cuisine at Westside Elementary School on Thursday was part of ‘Eat the Alphabet,’ an after-school program aimed at getting elementary school children to try new, healthier foods.
Children attending had their pick of 26 different foods each served by volunteers, from grapes to zucchini, in small sample sizes. To encourage the children to venture beyond their preferred foods, those that tried every food available received a minor prize.
“It’s like a fun game,” said Sherie Yoon, assistant general manager of foodservice for Southwest Foodservice Excellence, a K-12 catering company that organized the event. “At lunchtime, the children don’t really get that.”
The dishes were presented in a decidedly strategic order, with foods that the children might find appetizing padding more exotic choices.
The event is part of a wider program offered to schools nationwide by Southwest Foodservice Excellence. For the Leander school district, the company has already organized the event for around 18 local elementary schools this year, said Lindsey Tipton, a supervisor for Southwest Foodservice Excellence.
“It’s part of our wellness policy with the district to do this event at least once a year with each elementary school,” said Yoon.
Almost the entire event was headed by Southwest Foodservice Excellence, as the company both provided the food and chose which foods would be served.
Still, there was no shortage of unique fruits and vegetables available for attendees, like jicama and edamame. And it’s those choices that make the event unique for the children, said Nikki Enberg, healthy lifestyles chair for Westside PTA.
“Where else would kids get to try foods like lychee, udon or dates? Those are not necessarily foods that kids are typically going to eat,” Enberg said.