The Pittsburgh-based website Niche lived up to its name recently by going beyond traditional school district quality measures to shed light on the greatness of school lunch programs.
Academics and extracurricular programs were assessed, too, in the website's national rankings. But it was the South Washington County School District's A+ lunch rating that prompted the district to tout the strong showing in a recent news release.
According to the 2015 Niche rankings, South Washington County ranked 48th among districts nationwide for the quality of its lunch program -- good for third in the state behind the Minnetonka and Hopkins school districts, which placed sixth and 20th nationally.
The ratings are based on student and parent surveys, and on district spending, with the greatest weight given to what parents and students have to say.
At Park High in Cottage Grove, a senior reported: "The new turkey-on-focaccia sandwiches are fantastic and the apples are as juicy as ever."
Not everyone was enamored with the food at East Ridge High in Woodbury, however.
"It's pretty much what you would expect from a school lunch. There were a few things I liked, but I wouldn't call it good," a student said.
In the west metro, a Hopkins High senior put its lunches to a broader test: "I have gone to many college tours and nothing exceeds the lunches provided by Hopkins High School," the student reported. "There are so many options, and there's always 'omelet day' to look forward to."
The Niche website reviews and ranks school districts, schools, colleges, cities and neighborhoods, and got its start in 2002 as CollegeProwler.com. The company's database contains records for 13,402 school districts. Of those, 3,868 were ranked for the quality of their lunch programs.
Overall, with academics, extracurriculars and other measures included, South Washington County was ranked 11th among the state's school districts. Despite having a better lunch program, Hopkins finished behind South Washington County in the overall state rankings at 15th.
Minnetonka finished first in the state overall.