Hilltop Elementary unveils new cafeteria

Just a few minimal updates transformed the look of the cafeteria. Wall colors were changed and more posters were hung to add more color to the once bland space.

The new lunch menu at Hilltop includes boxed salad and lunchbox options for students in addition to the two hot entrée options.

Lunch menus receive updates as well

For some elementary students it’s the subject they like best: lunch. 

Now the students at Hilltop Elementary in Inver Grove Heights have an updated cafeteria in which to enjoy their lunchtime.

The cafeteria and menu were revamped and officially unveiled on Monday, Dec. 5.

Superintendent Dave Bernhardson said conversations came up over the course of the last year about how important meals and nutrition are to students. 

“We wanted to make sure we were doing the best we can for them,” Bernhardson said.

Bernhardson said Cathi Krick, district director of food services, was the one who suggested it might be an opportune time to have someone from the outside take a fresh look at the current cafeteria. Everyone thought it was a good idea, Bernhardson said.

Jean Ronnei, senior consultant with Food Service Management Solutions, came in and helped the staff evaluate the food service program as a whole. Ronnei said the idea of a cafeteria makeover is stepping back from the environment and seeing what the customers see. Then the next steps are thinking of ways to de-clutter and deciding what can be done to improve a cafeteria’s ambiance.

All aspects were looked at, and Hilltop’s updated cafeteria is a byproduct of that process, Bernhardson said.

The strengths of the food service program were identified along with what could be changed.

He said Ronnei helped the school district staff realize that “how you have your cafeteria set up, and how inviting it is and how fresh and exciting it is, plays a role with kids and their desire to make choices that maybe typically they wouldn’t.” 

Ronnei said they wanted the school’s cafeteria to reflect the healthy food being served there, and place a focus on fresh fruits and vegetables. 

Ronnei said the biggest thing the staff liked was the idea of more color. This was the basis for the decorating and paint choices.

They sifted through the many posters that were already available, and selected those that showcased nutrition and added more color. 

Some painting of the cafeteria walls happened during a break, and most of the work was completed when there was no school on Friday, Dec. 2.

Ronnei said the theme created at Hilltop can apply to any elementary school in District 199. 

Krick said her goal was to try to keep everything under $6,000. The money came from the designated food service budget.

A lot of the work was rearranging and looking at what could be done with limited funds. Krick said with this revamp, they wanted the cafeteria to be a fun, upbeat looking facility. The wall by the kitchen is now a vibrant blue, and the rest of the cafeteria eventually will be painted as well.

All of the serving bowls and containers are now black, and there will be black trays. All of this is to help the food “pop,” Krick said. Other schools in the district will be switching to the black serving dishes as well.


Food choices get an update, too

The revamp wasn’t just limited to the décor of the cafeteria. The menu had changes and additions as well. Krick said there are now lunchbox grab-and-go options including salads.

Two days a week there are boxed salads and three days a week there are the lunchboxes as alternatives to the two hot entrees to choose from. There are three different kinds of lunchboxes. 

With the lunchboxes, students can take all the fresh fruit and vegetables off the line they want, as well as milk.

These new options were introduced about a month ago at all the elementary schools in the Inver Grove Heights district.

“These have been a hit,” Krick said. “Every building is serving about 100 a day of just the lunchboxes.”

Krick said they are also trying to offer two new menu options every month at all the schools.

All the breads and pastas are now whole grain, which has helped increase the nutritional value for students, and there’s a wider variety of fruit and vegetables offered as well.

Bernhardson said better nutritional value doesn’t always provide the most enticing food to kids.  

Krick added it’s hard to get the youngsters to eat fresh vegetables. Fruit is more popular, so several types are always offered. 

“With the regulations we follow, the students have to have either a half cup of fruit or half cup of vegetable on their tray. They have to take it,” Krick said.

Another new addition to the menu will be Minnesota Thursdays. Starting in January, one Thursday a month there will be a Minnesotan grown or produced product. Krick said this will help showcase what Minnesota can offer and get the kids used to seeing locally sourced items.

Bernhardson said lunch sets up the rest of a student’s day up for success. These new initiatives are all about students having the nutrition and energy they need for learning in the afternoon. 

“Kids are no different than adults. If we don’t eat at a regularly scheduled time and have the nutritional value we need, sometimes we’re not at the top of our game,” Bernhardson said. “We look at this as saying how can we do things of this nature to contribute best to our kids being at the top of their game.”

When looking at what Krick and her team have done, he said they are trying to inspire kids to make good choices and be excited about eating. Bernhardson added they are doing some innovative things, and noted the mission of the district is to “inspire [and] innovate, so kids can excel.”

“That’s what Cathi has done here. She’s working to inspire kids and be innovative on a really limited budget to help grow nutrition in our kids,” Bernhardson said. 


Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com.


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