Director of school nutrition hangs up the apron
By Hannah Bensen, Current Staff
Managing the biggest restaurant in the county is a huge task, but Lynne Gross has been doing it for a long time.
As the director of school nutrition for the school district, Gross is the brains behind the school breakfast and lunches. However, after a 33-year reign, Gross will retire at the end of the school year.
When Gross came out of college in 1982 with degrees in management and preparing food, fate aligned when there was a job opening at West Bend. Back then, only 38% of students took the school lunch. She has worked hard to make that number increase to over 60% today.
“[It’s difficult] to try and please 7,000 kids who have 14,000 parents every day. I mean, it’s hard enough at home to please four kids at the dinner table,” Gross said. “You’re never going to please everybody. Or the kid who wants to have a hamburger or peanut butter sandwich everyday. You have to try and find the niches that everybody fits into.”
With the wide assortment of food and the four available lunch lines, most students find it easy to pick something they like.
“The variety of lunch has definitely improved. The take-and-go salad is very convenient and a good addition,” said Maranda Murphy, a sophomore at East.
Though it’s been tough for Gross at times, it’s clear that she has greatly impacted the nutrition program. Gross has helped build four new kitchens throughout her tenure, including ones at Silverbrook and Badger and, in 1996, an updated kitchen for the high schools. This has helped the food remain fresh and delicious.
“To be able to put in a facility of that quality, and see how well the kids like it, how nice the food is… It’s just a happy place,” Gross said.
The facility improvements have allowed the nutrition program to flourish under Gross. She has been able to experiment with new types of foods that have become cafeteria staples. Some successes came in strange places, such as the spicy chicken at Badger.
“We actually had 200 more kids eat lunch every day at that school because they were all in the spicy chicken line. And talk about weird things—I mean, who would have predicted that? I can’t stand spicy chicken!,” Gross said.
Other recent successes have been the burger bar and the chef salads.
“Kids vote with their meal ticket. If a school’s meal count is up a hundred, it’s instant gratification. You know if the kids liked it, or they didn’t. You go home saying ‘Boy, did that work,’ or ‘Boy, did that flop!,” Gross said. “ It’s been an adventure.”
Gross said that she has really enjoyed working with the staff at West Bend. Upon her retirement, she plans to have a few months of well-deserved rest.
“Whoever her replacement is, they have some big shoes to fill,” said Greymont.
(Top image: Students select food in the East Cafeteria on Tuesday, April 27. Adding more lunch lines and choices is one of many changes that happened under Lynne Gross’ leadership. Photograph by Mike Smale, Current Staff. Other photographs by Hannah Bensen, Current Staff.)