How do you feed 60,000 hungry children and keep them happy? Sometimes you do it with a road map. If you understand geography, says C. Anthony DiMuzio, the stocky food services director for Prince George's County schools, you've almost got the problem licked.
The verdict of his youthful jury depends largely on where it lives, DiMuzio says. The menu has to match the venue.
"There's quite a difference in the eating habits in children in Accokeek; they don't compare with the children in other areas," he says. "Spaghetti, lasagna, heavier kinds of meals, seem to be more popular in that area than in the northern part.
"I attribute that to farm or open space. More rural eating habits, probably less two-parent wage-earners in the family, and mom is home to prepare those kinds of meals, which take more time."
It's a different story farther north.
"Bowie-area children like finger food -- hamburger, hotdog, pizza or sandwich kinds of meals -- because they're quickly prepared," DiMuzio said. He reckons that's because the children were brought up in eat-and-run families.
"South of the central area we use more farm imports: garden stuff, salads, casseroles and heavy kinds of meals. In the northern part, salads not as much. Up in the northern part they like tacos, because of the fast-food taco places."
In the Gwynn Park area, tacos aren't as well-liked. DiMuzio believes this is because there aren't as many fast-food outlets in the southern end of the county.
And around the inner Beltway, chicken is not so popular, "because mom buys chicken at home and they're not going to eat it at school," DiMuzio said.
"A grilled cheese sandwich may be popular with the soup, but in some schools they'd rather have tomato or chicken noodle or vegetable beef soup," he said. He said he has a main menu, but includes as many "alternates" as he can to cater to geographical differences, "so that the managers can pick the particular meal that their children accept.
"You have these different pockets," he said. "This is nothing but an extension of home feeding. What they get at home, they end up liking. We end up duplicating that."
In the end, the former marine cook said, "there's an awful lot of psychology in feeding. It's a psychological warfare."