Figuring drab cafeteria decor and stainless steel do little to stimulate young appetites, Anne Arundel County public schools have put their money where the mouths are.
One by one, beginning last year with Broadneck High School, cafeterias are being transformed with bright colors and signs into food courts -- just like the ones in the local shopping mall.
"We want our customers -- the students and the adults who work in schools -- to enjoy their luncheons more than they did before," said Renee Arnold, supervisor of food services. "And we want to increase the number of people coming to eat in our restaurants."
The school system feeds meals to more than 26,000 students, teachers and administrators.
And that doesn't include brown-baggers who buy dessert or a beverage, or those who prefer to buy a single sandwich or an a la carte item.
So far, eight of the county's 12 high schools have food courts, and Severna Park Senior High's will be the next to open, probably sometime in November.
Meade, Old Mill, Chesapeake and Northeast senior highs should be completed by next year.
"The difference in the atmosphere is unbelievable, and each school cafeteria has a different design," Ms. Arnold said. "At Severna Park, we're going for a 'boardwalk' effect, with a lot of bright signage."
The average cost of the cafeteria/restaurant renovations is about $7,000 per school, Ms. Arnold said. Food service workers get to choose their own uniforms to go with the decor, she said.
The food courts offer students choices from four or five food stations.
The "Quick Pick," offers such treats as tortilla chips with salsa or nacho cheese, double cheeseburgers and baked potatoes with fixings.
There's also the "Sub Depot," with 12 different varieties of made-to-order sandwiches and subs; "On a Roll," with fish filets, burgers, chili dogs and other fare, all served on buns; and "Hot Stop & Go," which offers regular hot entrees.
Depending on the size of the cafeteria, there might also be a "Pizza Express" line; otherwise, pizza is available at the "Hot Stop & Go."
Elementary schools will be next, although Davidsonville Elementary's "Gator Galley" is already up and running, Ms. Arnold said.