It wasn’t an ordinary lunch day for several students. Instead of trays, they were handed their meals in a brown paper bag. And, for many students, the lunch line was darker than usual.

It’s part of an effort by Warren County Public Schools to slice energy consumption and make students more aware of energy conservation. On Wednesday, each elementary school participated in an energy-free lunch day, shutting down a majority of its kitchen equipment, even the kitchen lights.

“I like it dark in there,” said Zachary Reed, 5, a kindergartner at Rockfield Elementary School, “because I’m not scared of anything.”

It’s the brainchild of Gina Howard, director of food services and nutrition for the district, who read years ago about a similar project at another school district.

“I think this is going to be a great way to promote being green and saving and being able to let kids take part in the savings,” she said.

As Warren County works to save energy and incorporate energy efficiency into the school day, officials studied the kitchens. A kitchen uses 22 percent of a school’s energy, Howard said.

On Wednesday, cafeteria workers at Rockfield Elementary School dropped crackers, sandwiches, fruits and vegetables into bags for students. Most equipment was off except a cooler to keep the drinks cold.

“I’d hate to see the electric bill just for this kitchen alone,” said Brenda Graham, cafeteria manager. “It’s a good nutritious meal to feed the kids, and if we can save money by not keeping all the equipment on, I think we should do anything we can to save money.”

It’s a switch from Tuesday’s lunch, which consisted of chicken tenders and mashed potatoes.

“We had every oven on, every burner on, every washer on,” said Tammy Bartlett, a cook. “It’s a lot of food to cook.”

Workers try on a daily basis to conserve energy. For example, they wait until the dishwasher is full before running it, and they don’t dawdle when cooking, Graham said.

“We try to get it done as quickly as possible to save as much energy as possible,” she said.

When officials designed the new kitchen at Richardsville Elementary School, they wanted it to be as energy-efficient as possible. They eliminated fryers, which use a lot of energy, and replaced them with convection and steam ovens. They replaced tilting skillets with kettles, and they are continually replacing kitchen equipment in other schools with Energy Star appliances, Howard said.

In addition to saving energy, the new kitchen equipment prepares healthier foods, she said.

“Students will do well if they eat the right foods,” Howard said. “They will have the right energy to study and do well in school.”

And students embrace healthier lunches - at least they did Wednesday. Kindergarten and first-grade students squealed and jumped in excitement when they realized they were getting sack lunches.

“There’s apples,” Zachary said. “I say, ‘Awesome.’ ”

The energy-free day will be cycled into three more lunches throughout the academic year: March 30, April 27 and May 18. Howard plans to hold the lunches next academic year, she said.

It’s something that both cafeteria workers and students likely will look forward to.

“My kids love sack lunches. If they could eat a sack lunch every day, they would,” said Ceann Meredith, a kindergarten teacher at Rockfield Elementary. While energy efficiency is a big concept for her students to grasp, “they understand it’s important to turn the lights off and not to leave the water running.”

— The energy-free day will be cycled into three more lunches throughout the academic year: March 30, April 27 and May 18.

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