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No more mystery meat

Kimberly Legros is an 11-year-old middle school student who likes lima beans. She admitted as much when the beans in question were still sitting on her plate as a recent lunch period drew to a close.

Kimberly was enjoying a vegetarian plate, a new choice on the lunch menu for elementary and middle school students. The lima beans are not actually a regular part of the plate; they just were available that day and she added them. She was saving them for last, she said, because they are her favorite.

The vegetarian plate, consisting of celery and carrot sticks, peanut butter on a celery stick, cheese strips, hard-cooked eggs, beans and salsa, and cucumbers, is one of a few new menu items for Citrus County students. On various days students also can choose jerk chicken, and turkey or chef salads in edible bowls (baked tortilla shells).

Food service director Shirley Greene said the vegetarian plate is "for those kids who want enough food and don't want to pick up an entree."

The other new items are an attempt by food service to reach a continuously more diversified student population. It plans to add a jambalaya with sausage and shrimp. Greene says she is looking for a cost-effective source of shrimp.

A new dessert was suggested by one of the school's cafeteria managers. Whipped Cream Delight brings a fruit mix together with whipped topping. It was a hit when tested in schools over the summer. Greene calls it "a refreshing change from the routine fruit." It is also an attempt to get children to eat more fruit.

At Inverness Middle School, where Kimberly was munching on veggies and savoring her lima beans, she said the new presentation is "not bad." Her favorite items on the plate, besides the lima beans, were the celery with peanut butter, the cucumbers and the egg. "Well," she said, "everything."

She had a fresh apple, which she said she liked. "They're not too hard and they're not too soft," she said.

Her friend, Amanda Stearns, 12, sitting next to her, looked at the plate and said, "It really looks good." She didn't think she would like the salsa or cheese though.

Classmate Dylan Holmes, 11, mentioned something else new in the Inverness Middle cafeteria this year: the combo meals. A combo cart sits off to the side of the main food lines and offers chicken sandwiches, lettuce, tomato, chips, snacks and iced tea. "You get a choice of a regular chicken sandwich or a spicy chicken sandwich," Dylan said. "I like the spicy chicken sandwich."

Seventh-graders soon made their way into the cafeteria and Seamus Lawler, 12, described the turkey salad in an edible bowl. "This is my first time getting it," he said. "The turkey's good. I don't really like celery."

Also in the bowl are tomato, lettuce and American cheese. He chose the salad, he said, because, "I don't really like the tacos and it's really big and I'm kind of hungry, so I decided to get the biggest thing."

Jacquie Allen, 12, chose it for a similar reason. "'Cause I really don't like the tacos." With a little Italian salad dressing on it, Jacquie said, "It's pretty good."

The previous two testimonials might indicate that the school tacos are not that good. But that was disputed by Stephanie Tesar, 12. "Tacos are one of the best things they have!" she said.

Anthony Waugaman, 14, also a seventh-grader, liked the aesthetics of _ and the ingredients in _ the salad. "It has a unique shape to it," he said of the edible bowl. "And it has some of my favorite foods in it."

The bowl, he said, "tastes like Doritos but has a bakery taste to it."

Greene said she goes out into the schools to talk to students and ask them why they might not be eating something on their plates. She asks them what can be done to a food to make it better. Things can always change.

"Our focus is on the new and different," she said.