More than 40 vendors participate in Orange County Public Schools’ food show with students taste-testing nearly 150 potential school menu items.

Welcome to Jurassic Park! Surrounded by the dinosaur bones, floating planets and assorted other cool exhibits of the Orlando Science Center, some 400 Orange County Public Schools students recently participated in the district’s Annual Student Food Show.

“This is probably the single most important event we do each year,” says Lora Gilbert, senior director of OCPS Food and Nutrition Services. “The healthiest menu in the world is not healthful unless the kids will eat it.”

More than 40 vendors served 144 food items at the event, including gluten-free and vegetarian options.  Students then gave their opinion digitally as part of a project funded by the Florida Department of Agriculture. Surveys were pre-loaded onto iPads using the NurtiSlice app and clipped to each table.

Students used the app to rate each item they tasted and gave 121 of the 144 items a passing score. The scores were disaggregated to elementary, middle, and high school students and will be used as placement indicators on the menu.

“Vendors provide the latest new products, our registered dietitians screen the items for nutrition and the students tell us what they will eat,” Gilbert says. “Customer approval is working; we have doubled participation in the program in the last 10 years.”

Standout items from last year’s show like the jalapeno ranch sauce and the breakfast chicken patty earned a spot on the 2013-2014 menus and have students rushing to the cafeteria on the days they are served.

OCPS Food and Nutrition Services serve more than 29 million meals and snacks each year. That works out to approximately 175,000 breakfast and lunch meals daily. The department brings in more than $69 million in federal money to the school district.