Amid news reports about a backlash against federal changes to school lunches, Greendale saw a dip in those eating school-provided lunches in September.
But as students found out that, perhaps, some of the media coverage was overblown, participation returned to normal levels and the school district's food service program remains in good shape, officials reported Monday.
Implementation of the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is one of several changes to food service in Greendale this year. The legislation mandated calorie maximums at the elementary-, middle- and high-school levels and forced school districts across the country to adjust their menus. In Greendale, that meant moving away from processed foods and toward more "scratch cooking" from Chef Eric Lawson.
At the same time it deals with new federal requirements, the district's food service program is also settling in to a new leadership structure. A consultant and an on-site food service coordinator were put in place following the retirement of long-time manager Pat Muth.
That consultant, Barbara Nissel, told the Greendale School Board the new federal guidelines were the biggest change to food service in some 40 years.
The requirements are a good thing for students' health, she said. However, it's also given schools a fair amount of challenges. Namely, diversifying the menu so that students have enough options to avoid going away hungry.
"It truly is a good thing, however, it's really kind of hard to get students to like black beans and we have to serve some type of beans throughout the week," Nissel said. "So we're working very hard on developing student-friendly recipes for that and doing some taste tastes, so we're kind of getting there."
Following the initial drop-off in September, participation in the school lunch program was at 43 percent in December, compared to 42 percent in December 2011.
Nissel said she would like to see that percentage rise to about 50. But she noted that Greendale is hampered by its facilities, particularly in elementary schools, where small kitchens are inefficient and have contributed to higher labor costs.
The district has done what it can to work around those problems, such as decreasing expenditures, stop calling in substitutes, working with staff members and readjusting break times.
The program is still in good shape financially and is aiming for a break-even year, director of business Erin Green said.
For their part, students say they are generally happy with the food but feel communication has been lacking, said Josh Bartelme, one of the student representatives to the board.
Bartelme helped survey more than 200 students and faculty members about school lunches and said the concerns centered around variety and taste. However, many students simply weren't aware the school the school offers as much variety as it does.
"It really boils down to communication: a lot of students just don't know what we have," he said.