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Lincrest students' palates decide next year's pizza maker
Lincrest Elementary students put their taste buds to the test this week with the task of picking out pizza to be served at parties in the school district next year.
It was difficult work, to be sure, challenging the children to be discriminatory in determining which slices of pepperoni and cheese were the best. Two wedges of each from five vendors were served to all 70 students on Tuesday, piping hot and with instructions to eat as much or as little as they liked before jotting down feedback.
"It should taste like cheese and sauce," said Eli Cruz, 11. "Not something that tastes like cardboard and grease."
The five vendors spread themselves around the cafeteria, each with colored plates to identify their slices. They carved up giant pizzas, some with cheese browned from bubbling and others with pepperoni crispy at the edges.
"The crust should be brown," said Saihaj Kang, 8. "I love it; the cheesiness and the pepperoniness."
Madison Wer, 8, said the pizza by Ardella's was her favorite because it was sweet and a little greasy.
"It has to be gooey a little, and juicy, really juicy," she said.
Pepperoni is always a ruling factor for Jayden McClairen, 7, who said he notices variations in size and quantity.
"To be flavorful, it needs lots of pepperoni," he said.
All the pizzas had to be low sodium, low fat and at least 50 percent whole grain to meet federal nutrition standards. In addition to offerings by Schwan's, Wild Mike's, Nardone Bros. and Ardella's, Yuba City Unified served up a new half-whole-wheat crust pizza, made from scratch daily.
"I've only tried it for the big kids at Riverbend so far," said cafeteria manager Debbie Rains. "They love it. They love it more than anything."
Some students chomped away while others nibbled, thinking thoughtfully before penciling in their rulings.
"The cheese was good. It was slimy, and it was nice and hot," said Erika Hinton, 7, after picking Schwan's as her favorite. "Pizza should taste good so we can like the school."
Rylee Crutchfield, 10, studied each slice before taking a bite.
"Some of it has to do with how much sauce
it has," she said. "If it has too much sauce, it's revolting."
But Angel Brooks, 10, said all pizza is good.
"I'm just a food eater; I eat whatever people put in front of me," she said.
At Ardella's, the white whole-wheat crust is baked on a lightly greased pan to crisp the bottom, and oregano is added to the sauce to create a savory taste, said broker Erik Lenocker. Preferences seem to vary by district, he said, with some children liking pizza others won't touch and vice versa.
"These kids grew up eating out a lot more, so they have a more educated palate. They tend to be more educated consumers," he said.
Some students labored over decisions while others scratched in their likes and dislikes quickly.
"It's a hard job because you have to try to taste all the pizzas, but not hurt people's feelings," said Samuel Gonzales, 10.
Abi Gill, 6, said she simply could not decide. Pizza, after all, is still pizza.
"I tried all of them; they were so good," she said.
The district does taste testing nearly every month, whether with sausage and burritos, vending machine offerings or from-scratch cooking contests based on government-issued ingredients. Students provide the feedback and ultimately drive decisions.
"If it's cost-effective, we want to put that on the menu," said nutrition director Mary DeLong. "Otherwise, if the kids don't like it, they aren't going to eat it."
By afternoon's end, the district's pizza appeared to be the clear favorite, then Nardone Bros., then Schwan's and Ardella's with Wild Mike's placing last.
"It's nice to know kids like scratch cooking," Rains said. "We work hard to please the kids. It's all about the kids."
CONTACT Ashley Gebb at firstname.lastname@example.org or 749-4783. Find her on Facebook at /ADagebb or on Twitter at @ADagebb.