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From pizza to veggies, IPS food service manager sees changing meal trends

Connie Kristelli has firsthand evidence of how the taste buds of students have evolved over the past 34 years of working in the cafeterias at Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS).

As a food service manager at Shortridge High School, she’s witnessed plates filled to the brink with pizza, burgers and fries morph into trays piled high with fruits and vegetables as students become more health conscious.

“Right now, we see our students tear up our vegetable bar — they seem to gravitate to that area,” Kristelli said. “I think it’s because they are more health conscious. They know what they should and should not be eating. We are all trying to eat a bit more healthily now.

She also points out that students across the district are requesting a variety of fruits and vegetables. In fact, students consumed 135 tons of apples in 2021-22.

But, while many youngsters count their calories, carbs and fats, others still want an old-fashioned, home-cooked meal like pasta with meatballs and a bread stick.

“What I’m excited about is the return of mandarin chicken over rice. It was off our menu for a few years. I’m interested to see if today’s students like it as much as students did in the past.”

Kristelli oversees a cafeteria that feeds about 500 students every day. Overall, IPS Foodservice prepared 10,000 breakfasts and 22,000 lunches for its 31,000 students across the district.

Last year, IPS students consumed:

  • 5.6 million cartons of milk.
  • 2 million servings of chicken.
  • 175,000 pounds of potatoes.
  • 270,000 servings of yogurt.
  • 1.2 million bowls of cereal.

Kristelli’s hard work and long hours —– which usually start at 6 a.m. and don’t end until the last child is fed by midafternoon — have made her a legend throughout the district.

Dena Bond, director of IPS Foodservice, believes Kristelli may well be the reason why thousands of students have come to know IPS as a place where they can enjoy the variety of scrumptious foods found in IPS cafeterias.

“Connie is simply a pleasure to work with and everyone who interacts with her has nothing but positive things to say,” Bond said. “She has adapted very well over the past 30-plus years to changes in staff, operations, menus, schools, etc. Connie is a leader whose love for her job shows in the way she collaborates with staff and pours her heart into serving students healthy school meals each day.”

Known as the “boss lady” by her tight-knit team at Shortridge, Kristelli takes personal pride in making sure the students have the most nutritious meals possible.

“Starting the day with a good breakfast and then having a well-cooked lunch is very important for our students,” she said. “We know that it contributes to helping them with staying focused and doing well in their classes.”

And, while the school year is only beginning, Kristelli has no plans to slow down. Shortridge students should plan on seeing her wrapping sandwiches, pouring ladles of soup, and cutting up vegetables for a few more years.

“I like this job. I’ve always said that when I don’t have a heart for the students and become grouchy, I’ll be done. But, I’m not close to that. There are too many meals to fix.”