BURLEY — Cassia County students are kicking up the spice on their school lunches after the district rolled out a new spice lab that allows students to pick their flavor profile.

“I really like it, it gives kids more choices,” 12-year-old student Tanner Despain said.

Despain, a Burley Junior High School student, said his favorite is the garlic herb.

Other flavors include Mrs. Dash, smokey chipotle and a fiesta lime.

The spice lab, available to all the schools in the district, is set up on a small table at the end of the food line.

“It helps the students embrace as many foods as possible,” said school cook Lyndsey Hollingsworth. “They are using it every day and if we are having potatoes, almost all of them come through the spice lab.”

It’s such a hit, the cooks have asked the shop students to make them a new table for it that will allow more space to offer a bigger variety of spices. First on the list will be some spicier options like Tobasco sauces.

“All that’s stopping us from expanding is the space,” Hollingsworth said.

Last year, the school served about 280 lunches a day, and now about 330 students are eating lunch.

Angela Rodriquez, food service supervisor for the school district, implemented the program.

“She has really branched out with recipes too that are good but still within the guidelines,” Hollingsworth said.

Rodriquez, who is also the state’s child nutrition director, said keeping the meals within the guidelines for calories, saturated fat and sodium tends to makes them less palatable.

“What do you have left,” Rodriquez said. “Kids said the food was bland.”

Adding spices while cooking helps alleviate the blandness. But when you are preparing meals for the district’s 5,500 students, you also have to make sure you please as many of them as possible and don’t add flavors that some children may find objectionable.

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And that’s the beauty of the spice lab — students can decide for themselves how they want their food to taste.

The district implemented the program, and it’s been a huge hit, especially at junior high and high schools.

Some elementary schools are not using it but it is available to them.

The labs also have instructions cautioning the children to only put two shakes of the spice on their food.

“It really has gone better than I thought it would,” said kitchen manager Shelly Self. “You would have thought we gave them gold they were so excited.”

The cooks are now regularly refilling the spice jars.

Rodriquez said she would next like to implement some flavors like cinnamon and nutmeg that can be served at breakfast.

Nehemiah Wright, 13, said he regularly makes a stop at the lab: “If I don’t like a food, It makes it better.”

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