Robbinsdale Area Schools

Cultural food tastings offer something new to students, district lunch menus

A popular myth might suggest elementary school-aged students are a finicky bunch when it comes to trying new foods. Yet, earlier this fall, when many students at Neill Elementary School in Crystal were asked to give a new kind of food a try, there was excitement in the school lunch line.

“We were pretty surprised, actually,” said Kelsey Brommel, the assistant director of Robbinsdale’s Nutrition Services Department. “The kids loved it.”

The lunch-line excitement was due to a new-to-the-district taste testing opportunity for students and staff to try something called a sambusa, a Somali wheat pastry filled with beef and folded.

The November event was part of a new semi-monthly program Robbinsdale Area Schools Nutrition Services launched this year in partnership with the district’s Achievement and Integration Department to bring cultural food tastings to some schools around the district.

“We’re excited about this partnership because it allows us to teach about cultures and heritage through food,” said Tamuriel Grace, director of the district’s Achievement and Integration Department. 

Brommel agreed. “The taste tests give students, and sometimes staff, a chance to try something they may have never been exposed to before while also providing a little bit of background about the food, its history, and the culture it comes from,” she said.

Following the sambusa success at Neil in November, a second cultural food tasting event was held in December at Armstrong High School, where students and staff were offered Korean Beef with rice and vegetables for lunch.

And that’s the ultimate goal for Grace – to grow the program to offer these educational opportunities during each heritage month during the school year. In fact, Grace said, the educational component is what led her to originally present the idea to Brommel and Child Nutrition Services in the first place. 

“Eventually, we want to do taste testing as well as full meal plans that are representative of our school demographics and student cultures,” Grace said.

While there’s an important educational component to the taste-testings, Brommel said there’s also a practical reason for trying out new dishes. Since the sambusas were so popular at Neill, Nutrition Services will be integrating them into school lunch menus across all grades as early as February. The Korean beef recipe will likely become a regular offering to secondary students starting next school year.

“We know we can put these items on our menus because of the feedback we received from the students during tasting events,” Brommel said. “Without the input from students, we probably wouldn’t have offered them.”

Brommel said Hoyo Foods in Bloomington helped provide the sambusas for the Neill tasting event, and Thousand Hills Farm in Becker provided the Korean beef ingredients. Both will be partners with the district as they move to make the food offerings a permanent fixture to lunch menus.

The district plans to have another cultural taste-testing event in February, but that’s still being planned. For future events, Nutrition Services is always interested in suggestions, Brommel said. Have an idea? E-mail

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