Nine-year-old Libby Squire picked up her white plastic spork, scooped up some creamy spinach soup, rolled it around her mouth, swallowed it, and nodded.
“Best spinach soup I’ve ever had,” she declared.
She cast her vote for the soup.
Libby, a fourth-grader at Boston Valley Elementary School, was one of hundreds of students at the Hamburg Central School District’s four elementary schools picking the next addition to their lunch menu this week during a taste test.
The choice was between a creamy spinach soup and salad with spinach, apple, Craisins, carrot and balsamic vinegar.
It’s just one of the ways the district is trying to balance nutritional requirements set by the federal government with offering more vegetables kids will actually eat.
The cafeteria must serve elementary students a half-cup of green vegetables a week, which doesn’t sound difficult until you read the fine print and see that green beans and peas do not qualify as green vegetables. But kale, lettuce, broccoli and spinach do.
The taste test was a collaboration between the district and SOLE, or Seeds of Living Education, which has created gardens at several of the schools.
Tricia Miller, a volunteer parent with SOLE, helped organize the taste test, and came up with the recipe for the salad.
“This is great. Spinach was the choice because we don’t have spinach on the menu,” Miller said.
Linda Muldoon, director of food services, praised Miller’s work with the gardens and introducing children to healthy foods, which makes it easier to offer them in the cafeteria. “This was a good way to introduce spinach. I’ve been sort of afraid to put it on the menu,” she said.
The salad was a hit with first-grader Emma Holst, 6.
Why does she like the spinach salad?
“’Cause, um, I really like salad, and my mom makes it,” the 6-year-old said.
Not everyone took a taste.
“I don’t like vegetables,” said first-grader Caidon Evancho, 7, who was eating a cheese and mayonnaise sandwich he brought from home. “I like peas.”
Sean Flynn, 8, was not that adventuresome, either.
“I don’t really like salad,” he said. “I like blue cheese dip. I like croutons,” he said.
He also likes cucumbers “a little” and lettuce.
“I do like most fruit,” the second-grader said. “I don’t like most vegetables.”
Over at a table of fourth-graders, the soup got high marks.
“It’s good soup. Try that. It’s actually pretty good,” Jesse Quinones, 9, told his classmate, Douglas Taylor, 9. “Well-made. It’s still hot.”
Jesse drank the last bit of his soup from the tiny plastic cup, while Douglas took a taste.
“It tastes like fettuccine Alfredo,” Douglas pronounced. “Amazing!”
Second-grader Gwyn Huson, 7, said the soup was “OK,” and she would vote for it.
Students at Armor, Charlotte Avenue and Union Pleasant elementary schools voted earlier in the week, and the count was close on the final day of voting at Boston Valley.
Children voted by placing a “Love Your Veggie” sticker on the soup or salad poster. And the winner is … spinach soup, with 333 votes, to 315 for spinach salad.
But really, you could say spinach won. Because the vote was so close, both will be added to the menu.
The salad will be on the April menu, and the soup will go into the rotation, Muldoon said.
Just don’t tell the kids that it’s good for them and a good source of iron, vitamins A and C, folate, magnesium and fiber.