WESLEY CHAPEL — Don't expect to sit by a cooler filled with a variety of fish to watch the chef slice and roll your meal.
But Wiregrass Ranch High School's a la carte lunch menu soon will offer sushi — at least for a trial run.
Not what you'd expect in Pasco schools? Well, nutrition specialist Maggie Giunta said, it's time to think again.
"One of the things that we're always trying to do is offer some different items that are also healthier," she explained. "Every day I see news stories coming in that blame the schools for obesity. We would rather be on the forefront and put (new nutrition) standards into effect ahead of time."
On May 19, the district will give away free samples of three rolls — spicy shrimp with red pepper, avocado with carrot and fake crab meat, and carrot and avocado — to see if the kids like and would buy them. The food and nutrition department will have several people on hand to get feedback before deciding whether to test other varieties or make the sushi a regular offering there and at other schools.
"We have no idea what the acceptability will be," Giunta said.
Food services director Rick Kurtz told the School Board about the sushi plans Tuesday as he presented the district's recent award from Peta 2 for having one of the five most vegetarian-friendly school meal plans in the country. He noted that his staff is always looking for ways to add variety to students' food choices.
In addition to sushi, the district also plans to introduce pierogies in two weeks. Rushe Middle will be the test site for those potato-filled dumplings.
This year, cafeterias have added several other new items including a hummus platter and a Caribbean shrimp and rice bowl. None has proved as popular as the standby favorites of nachos, pizza and chicken strips; but through marketing and sampling, some of these have gained a following.
That's part of the reason Wiregrass Ranch is a test site for the sushi: Cafeteria manager Pam Zundel does catering on the side and knows how to do the presentation to pique eaters' interest.
Principal Ray Bonti added that his students are "great about looking at new menu items. ... They are always looking for healthy opportunities when we eat lunch here. I think we can make it work."
The three sushi rolls are part of a new frozen product line by Schwan's. They are not the only sushi option being considered.
Giunta said she recently contacted a group that offers fresh sushi to Orange County schools, where officials told her that a $5 sushi platter has proved a hit in the elementary schools. She's also talking to the group that makes sushi boxes for Publix.
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.