WESLEY CHAPEL — Melissa Jaramillo had a Red Baron cheese pizza for lunch on Wednesday.
That's only because the Wesley Chapel High cafeteria didn't have the hummus platter available.
Most days, Jaramillo said, the school has plenty of options available for vegetarians like her.
"They have a lot of salads and the hummus patter, and a nice selection of fruit," said the 17-year-old junior, who gave up eating meat as an eighth-grader after learning her family had unwittingly eaten some farm animals she had cared for. "If we get nachos, they'll take the meat out of the selection."
Pasco's attention to such matters has gained the attention of Peta2, the nation's largest youth animal-rights organization. The group named Pasco among the top five vegetarian-friendly public school districts in the United States.
The others were Orange County, Fla.; Berkeley, Calif.; Cambridge, Mass; and DeKalb County, Ga.
"Students can enjoy a hummus platter or veggie barbecue rib sandwich here," the organization said of Pasco cafeterias. "Well, that is, unless they prefer a veggie burger instead. Yum!"
Actually, the district debuted its vegetarian barbecue rib sandwich on Wednesday in select schools, with plans to expand it as an offering next week. Other new vegetarian entrees also are in the works, food and nutrition services director Rick Kurtz said.
"We try to have offerings that meet the expectations of all our customers," Kurtz said.
Many of the vegetarian offerings cost $3, rather than $2.50 for the less expensive fare. But Kurtz said the price has not deterred interest.
"It is not a big market segment, but it is a growing market segment," he said.
Pizza remains the top cafeteria choice in Pasco, with chicken sandwiches a close No. 2.
Still, Kayla Lancaster, another Wesley Chapel junior, couldn't help but notice the differences in the cafeteria options.
"The year before this year, it was hard to find selections," said Lancaster, 17, also a vegetarian. "They just had chicken and burgers and stuff like that. They added a lot this year. … I would agree that they are vegetarian-friendly."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.