Above, L.A. Unified is working to expand the options for cafeteria meals, based on what students want to eat.

Students rate new meal options during a recent taste-testing at Maywood Academy High School.

Looking to offer new meals that are as popular as the hamburger, teriyaki beef bowl and chicken caesar salad that now top L.A. Unified’s school-lunch menus, the District is taste-testing dishes that are reminiscent of restaurant fare.

A Philly steak sandwich, egg-and-cheese bun and vegan “cheesy burger” sliders were among the items sampled this week by seniors at Maywood Academy High. The school is one of seven across the District where kids are being asked to rate options that may be added to next year’s menu – depending on the reviews. New items must be approved by at least 75 percent of the student samplers in order to be considered for menu placement.

“Student feedback is a critical piece in menu planning,” said Ivy Marx, a senior nutritionist for the Food Services Division. ” It is important to know what our customers – the students – like to eat, because Food Services wants every student to find something they enjoy eating in our cafeterias.”

The practice of asking students from each Local and Board Member District to give thumbs-up or thumbs-down to a menu choice was implemented by Marx about 18 months ago. Before that, it was primarily adults – and maybe a student or two – who decided just what was going to be served each day.

Maywood Academy is one of seven District schools where students are being asked to rate new menu options for next year.

“Students who participate in our food testing actually help us decide what food items to include on the menu,” Marx said. “Their insights and input help us build a strong menu that is driven by students and not by adults, whose tastes are often different from those of students.”

Marx said the new menu items are suggested by vendors to mirror food-industry trends. However, they are closely reviewed by District officials to ensure they meet the nutritional guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Next month, Food Services will be meeting to discuss other options, including a vegan burrito and breakfast tortilla filled with egg, cheese and turkey sausage.

Seventeen-year-old John Marx, who is not related to Ivy, said the sliders he tasted at Maywood were a vast improvement over previous fare.

“They gave us more options such as more vegetarian choices,” he said. “It seems like they really care about what we think about the food they serve us.”

Classmate Nayeli Delgadillo said she is a vegetarian but was able to find options in the meals she was asked to sample.

“I’m glad to see that there will be more options for students in the future,” she said.

Click here to watch a KLCS-TV video of the Food Services Division taste-test at Maywood Academy High School.