LAKE STATION | River Forest Schools students Tuesday were served a New Orleans-style lunch menu with a Mardi Gras theme.
The theme day, with decorations and gifts of bright colored beads, was the idea of River Forest Schools food service director Carrie Nowacki.
"We're trying to bring a little something different, a little culture," Nowacki said.
The hard part each day for Nowacki and her fellow food service workers is serving healthful meals that students in grades kindergarten through 12 will like.
Nowacki said she recently introduced healthier initiatives, including five fruits from which to choose and two hot meal entrees.
"They pick and choose what they want," Nowacki said.
High school senior Robert Soto, 18, gave a thumbs up to the lunch, which included jambalaya and red beans and rice.
"It was very unique. ... This is not a five-star restaurant, but I'd give our lunchroom 2½ stars," Soto said.
His favorite lunchtime pick is the chef salad.
Pizza is the favorite lunch for younger students, such as fourth-grade friends Yesenia Cervantes, Mckenna James, Hailey Baum and Arianna Lopez.
"I also like the breakfast for lunch, which is a sausage wrapped in a pancake," Lopez said.
Pleasing the tastes of about 1,200 students Nowacki serves each school day is no easy task, she said.
And, with new school lunch recommendations recently announced by first lady Michelle Obama, Nowacki said her job is only going to get harder.
Nowacki said she and her staff have received the new federal guidelines, which have to be in place next school year.
"We're still going over them and still trying to digest them," Nowacki said.
She said reduction of sodium will be one of the most difficult tasks.
"The federal requirements have always been there but she (Obama) is tightening it up," Nowacki said.