Kathy Faust is more than your average lunch lady. As food service director at Crosslake Community School, she is turning the position into something enriching for students and administration alike.

Faust was hired as the first CCS food service director in May. In previous years, the school provided catering for its students. Now, Faust prepares breakfast and lunch options every day with the help of fellow food service employee Lisa Young.

"We work really well together, and that makes a world of difference," she said. "It's really exciting because the school never had food service prior to this. I like being able to offer the students choices, which I know is a big thing for them."

Students who eat school lunch have a daily option between the main entree and a cold sandwich. They also have some freedom in what sides they select. Faust created color-coded signs indicating which food groups are covered by each dish.

Kids need to take foods involving three different colors, or three separate food groups, in order for their meal to count as a full lunch. This way, they can take items they will actually enjoy eating while still maintaining a healthy diet.

"If I can give them a breakfast and lunch, I'm excited about that," said Faust. "If they go home and say they actually liked it, even better. I don't ever want to serve something I wouldn't want to eat."

Popcorn chicken and chicken nuggets are popular favorites among kindergartners all the way up to eighth-graders, especially with Faust's from-scratch sweet-and-sour dipping sauce.

Faust said she wants lunch to still be educational, though in a less traditional way than in the classroom. She said she almost never serves the same item twice in one month, and she likes to serve side options the kids may not have eaten before.

"If I can get even five kids to eat something different than they did when they started, that's a great thing," said Faust.

She is working to set up an after-school cooking class for students who want to learn some basics of making food. Kid-friendly items include individual pizzas and holiday themed Oreo balls. The class will teach basic kitchen skills along with safety rules.

"It will show them that you don't always have to go buy things," said Faust.

CCS Director Todd Lyscio said he feels that Faust's role is a huge enrichment opportunity for the school.

"Food service people are a special breed when it comes to education," he said. "It brings in a whole new dimension in the culture of the school."

Faust's role in the food service world doesn't stop at the lunch counter. She was recently accepted to an advisory council with the Minnesota Department of Education, making decisions on food services around the region.

Faust represents not only CCS specifically but also charter schools as a whole. She said the advisory board is able to hear policies before they go into action and look at paperwork, such as free and reduced lunch applications, ahead of time to simplify things for both the families and the food service employees.

"I'm excited to have a little more input," said Faust. "We get to ask, 'Did anyone think of this from our point of view?'"

Lyscio is also excited about Faust's interest in involving herself beyond the walls of the school.

"It's already like she's been here for years, and I know there's more to come," he said.

Faust has worked in food service most of her life. She began as a waitress and moved through positions at grocery stores and a daycare, with a time as food service director in Onamia before finding the Crosslake position.

Faust is a new permanent resident of the Brainerd lakes area, but her family has had a timeshare at Breezy Point Resort for the past 25 years.

Faust and her husband, Joe, considered retiring in the area, but their timeline moved up when Faust got the job.

"I never had that 'new kid in school' feeling until now, but everyone here has been so nice and inclusive," she said.

They couldn't find a residence that suited them in Crosslake, so the couple bought five acres of land on Fawn Lake and are currently building a house. In the meantime, the pair is living out of their fish house until their real home is complete, using the running water from their Breezy Point timeshare as needed.

"Our children are grown, so it was time for Joe and I to venture out on our own," said Faust.

The couple has three children and five grandchildren.

Faust said she uses her position at CCS to make every child's day at school a little better.

"We don't know what a kid's situation is like at home," she said. "We want everybody to have the same experience."

She said she enjoys getting to know the kids individually as well through her work.

"It isn't structured like a classroom setting," she said. "It's the one time of the day where they get to totally be themselves."