SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — Adrian Dominguez, a fourth grade student from Rio Grande City CISD, made his way through rows of tables loaded with an array of food and drinks.

After sampling a cup filled with zero-sugar, flavored sparkling water, Adrian bit into a piece of pizza, nodded his head and smiled.

With a clipboard and mechanical pencil in hand, he wrote what he tasted, placed a check mark next to it on his product evaluation form and began writing how he felt about the samples.

Around 300 elementary, middle school and high school students from throughout the Valley participated in taste-testing sessions held by the Region One Education Service Center this past week at the SPI Convention Centre.

“The kids will always give their opinion,” Region One ESC Purchasing Coordinator Lori Ramos said with a laugh and a smile. “They’re very honest and unfiltered, so that’s good.”

What are the taste-testing sessions for?

Created in September of 1999, the Region One ESC Child Nutrition Program-South Texas Cooperative (CNP-STC) has been holding the taste-testing sessions to assist school nutrition administrators with bidding out food products for their menus.

“We collect that information after they taste-test everything they liked and didn’t like,” Ramos explained. “That gives the school district food service directors an opportunity to see what new items they might like to introduce into their school menus the following school year.”

According to CNP-STC representatives, the food-tasting sessions help reduce man-hours and administrative costs to each school district.

“Our goal is to help school districts operate more efficiently and effectively,” Ramos said. “And of course, help them meet their nutrition goals at their district level.”

Exploring the expo

From small snacks such as sour-flavored raisins to entrées such as chicken flavored with Mexican salsa, close to 130 vendors took their products to the food-tasting expo.

Harlingen South Student Advisory Board Vice-President Natalie Perez attended the expo for the first time this year.

“Getting to try all of this food makes you realize how much work goes into how the school district prepares the food for us,” she said. “I think this is a really cool experience.”

Natalie said she hopes several of the vendors’ products end up on the menu next year so all of the students are able to try all of the “really good” food she sampled.

Monica Levrier, a La Feria ISD food service manager, attended the taste-testing session with a few third graders in student council.

“I think this is a really good experience for the students because they are able to try new food,” she said about the event. “I get really good feedback from them and that’s what it’s ultimately about — trying to give them a good meal that they’re going to enjoy eating.”

Ramos said what really makes the taste-testing sessions a success is the school districts that participate.

“They are taking the time to arrange for their students, directors and staff to be here trying new products and giving us their feedback,” she explained. “Really this is all for them and is about them.”

MORE INFO

WHAT IS THE REGION ONE EDUCATION SERVICE CENTER?

• Region One ESC is part of a state-wide system of 20 regional education service centers created by the 59th Texas Legislature to assist school districts across the state.

• It serves 38 school districts and 10 charter school systems in eight counties — Cameron, Hidalgo, Willacy, Starr, Zapata, Webb, Jim Hogg and Brooks.