LAND O'LAKES — The turkey dog taste test turned out terrific.
So say the kids at Pine View Elementary School, who sampled the substitute sausages Wednesday on a trial run before the school district replaced beef franks countywide.
"To me, they were delicious," said fifth-grader Mitsy Audate as she picked at her chicken salad in the school cafeteria Thursday. "I had two. … If we could have thirds, I would be in line."
Fourth-grader Breana Barnes deemed the new dogs superior to the old ones, too.
"I loved them," she said. "The other ones didn't have much flavor, and these had more flavor. And they were bigger."
The students didn't know the replacements were turkey instead of beef, and they didn't care.
"What's the difference, anyway?" remarked fourth-grader Steven Collins between sips of chocolate milk. "They weren't all brown and they tasted better than the old ones."
Only fifth-grader Chelsea Melendez disagreed in random interviews with hot dog eaters.
"They tasted fake," she pronounced.
The overwhelmingly positive response is good news for the district's food and nutrition services department, which had a lot — $25,000, to be exact — riding on the outcome of the blind taste test.
The feedback justified the department's decision to stop buying the beef hot dogs and instead use the turkey franks in all 72 district schools. It's a savings of 13 cents per hot dog at the elementary level, and 20 cents when trading one jumbo beef dog for two turkey dogs at the secondary level.
When you consider that Pasco students chomp through more than 192,000 hot dogs a year, that's a big bite out of the budget at a time when every penny counts.
Food and nutrition services director Rick Kurtz said he has to eliminate jobs and cut back employee work hours, too, as costs of everything from bread to delivery truck fuel rises. He had planned for expenses to go up about 7 percent, but the increase is nearly double that.
So Kurtz welcomed the chance to save money on hot dogs. He expected a full switch to the turkey franks, which he called "a highly satisfactory product" after eating one, by the middle of next week.
That's just fine with the Pine View kids, who were surprised and honored to have been chosen as the district's hot dog testers.
"I think it's pretty awesome," said fifth-grader Erica Valdes. "It makes me feel special."
Special enough to offer some other recommendations, too.
Although the turkey franks were great, fifth-grader Hailey Westbrook said, the buns need to go. They fall apart.
And please, the students said, replace the macaroni and cheese.
"Get the Kraft," Mitsy suggested, with all at the table nodding rapidly in agreement.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.