Lunch has a whole new meaning at Litchfield High School this year.

In an effort to give students more healthy food options — and to improve its food service bottom line — Litchfield Public Schools created a Grab & Go Lunch program that offers a variety of wraps and salads, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables.

The district created a Grab & Go Breakfast two years ago and witnessed an increase of about 200 percent in student participation in school breakfast. This inspired the emergence of Grab & Go Lunch, according to Jesse Johnson, the school district’s business manager.

“As far as the Grab & Go Lunch, that’s probably increased our participation, from early figures, by about 24 percent right now,” Johnson said. “And the word is getting out. More and more kids are starting to utilize it. We have a lot of kids go through there. And it all depends on what they’re serving for the hot lunch.”

The school's regular lunch will have a wider variety of options throughout the year, which includes hot items. But the Grab & Go Lunch offers a variety of freshly made salads and sandwiches such as chicken Caesar salad, southwest chicken salad, oriental chicken salad, zesty Italian wrap, chicken bacon ranch wrap and buffalo chicken wrap.

"The Grab & Go option was designed not to be complicated, but to be easy, convenient, and healthy," Johnson said. “(School administrators) might soon add a soup option with breadstick this winter."

With the high school’s open lunch policy, juniors and seniors can leave the building to eat at fast food and convenience stores, and the Grab & Go Lunch seeks to address that freedom component by offering students healthy food options and keeping them on campus.

Sophomore Janelle Lopez said eating a Grab & Go Lunch gives her more time to do her homework.

“Last year was just, you had lunch in the lunchroom, and you couldn’t come out,” Lopez said. “But here now, you can eat anywhere.”

Brian Cannon, senior, decided to go to McDonald's with his friends on a recent day, but he said the Grab & Go Lunch is a good option.

“I had the Grab & Go yesterday,” he said. “We just decided to get McDonald’s today… I say, you stop spending money on McDonald’s and go spend whatever a normal lunch would cost at the Grab & Go, because it’s actually really good food.”

“The school food service staff has put a lot of work into making this happen,” said Lesli Mueller, the district’s director of child nutrition. “And they are just as excited as the students having another lunch line at the high school for more options.”

Those options could help reverse a trend of declining food service revenue, too. School lunch revenue has fallen below budgeted amounts each of the past four school years since 2016-2017, with the 2018-2019 revenue of $804,931 coming up about $45,000 short of expenses.

The food service fund is independent of other district funds, Johnson said, with revenue used specifically to fund feeding students, purchasing equipment and paying staff. And so far this year, with Grab & Go Lunch seemingly playing a role, revenue has increased.

“I looked at the revenues at the high school, for the first 10 days this year vs. the first 10 days of last year, our revenues are up like $1,800,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he hopes that the Grab & Go Lunch will evolve into something bigger. For example, recently, the school’s food service started catering to sports teams.

“Because right now, we have a lot of our teams… they’ll send a parent to Subway and get sub-sandwiches, and then parents have to go do that,” Johnson added. “(They) pick it up and bring it back to have it at the bus when they leave. So now, we’ve created an order form that goes out to coaches, and they fill it the night before. The kids could pick what they want, and then we’ll cater it… we’ll have it ready for them… at the end of the day before they hop on the bus.”

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