Chartiers Valley Intermediate School student samples the salad.

A newly created program, Kids Around the Table, is encouraging students at Chartiers Valley Intermediate School to try new foods while also teaching them some socialization and good behavior skills.

The program developed and deployed by The Nutrition Group, a Pennsylvania-based foodservice company, operates in a two-week stretch of lunch periods during which a group of students dines family style each day on a menu of scratch-cooked, healthy dishes incorporating farm-fresh ingredients, meanwhile learning correct table settings and engaging in polite conversation. The group of participating students turns over after each two-week period, with one student at each table chosen each day as captain with responsibility for bringing the food to the table and overseeing its serving. Each student is responsible for laying out his or her own place setting, using a map on the placemat. Foods and portions are aligned with National School Lunch Program regulations, which also teaches about proper portioning. Children with food allergies or diet restrictions are accommodated with a dish as close as possible to what the others in the group are getting. The program also includes take-home recipes of the dishes being served so families can make them if they wish, and each child who completes the program gets a certificate of achievement and a chef hat.

Since the pilot at Chartiers Valley, which launched in late January, the program has expanded to two more districts and should expand in several more districts next school year.