Let me ask you a question: What do you have a Taste 4?

That’s the question we started asking students at Tahlequah High School on Nov. 12, 2019. That’s when the Child Nutrition Department and Sodexo introduced the latest dining concept to the students and staff at THS.

Simply put, Taste 4 transforms the traditional serving-line idea of school food service into a retail-minded smorgasbord of differing flavors and menu themes. Instead of being “locked-in” to a limited number of offerings based on the serving station, Taste 4 expands the horizons of what school food service is – and in some cases, isn’t.

The serving station that once featured exclusively Mexican entrees is now the Global station with flavors from around the world; students now enjoy meals with Asian, Italian, and Latin American influences, which even includes a ramen bar as part of the tastes from around the world. The pizza station now features a “Pasta Dish of the Week” that students have really taken to. In addition to new signage, marketing, menus and even uniforms, students get to choose from sauces not usually served in a high school cafeteria (sriracha-ranch dressing, anyone?).

So far, the initial response to the new menus has been positive. While a few students have expressed some dismay at not being able to get nachos every day, meal counts for lunch have increased 3-5 percent on average, compared to the participation during the month before, and many students are excited about what’s new in the kitchen at the high school.

This time of year also finds Child Nutrition and Sodexo preparing for Future Chefs, the national competition that seeks to find the next generation of culinary artists right in our own elementary schools. Last year’s competition – the first for Tahlequah Public Schools – was a huge success, and we are hoping to build on that success as we participate in what will be the 10-year anniversary of the Future Chefs program. We received more entries this year than last, and as a result, we will have two contestants competing to be the second-ever Tahlequah Schools Future Chef.

As we move forward and get closer to the end of the school year, we will be busy getting ready for field trips, picnics, and summer feeding. Going forward into the next school year, look for changes and improvements to the elementary menus and for a whole new look for the middle school. For Child Nutrition, what we have a Taste 4 is improving.

Leon Ashlock is superintendent of the Tahlequah I-35 School District.

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