School lunch.

For many people, those words are about as appetizing as liverwurst or fruit cake.But students in the Granite School District have been promised there will be an improvement in their school lunches next year. The Granite Board of Education voted on Tuesday to accept a committee recommendation to contract the district's food services to the Marriott Corp.

"It's a commitment to take a good (school lunch) program and make it even better," said Chris Werner, vice president of sales of Marriott's school food service.

Negotiations are under way, and the district is expected to officially award Marriott the contract April 18. That would mean that Marriott will begin to implement its services in every public school within the district before the school year is over.

But what does this mean for the students?

Fresher, tastier food - and a wider variety of it, Werner said. "It will not only taste good, but it will look good."

Parents, administrators and students of all grade levels will be able to give their input about the lunches through surveys and student advisory councils, he said.

"We hope to have a continuing dialogue of ways we can improve . . . as well as things we are doing well so we won't discontinue them."

Even first-graders may have the option of eating from a salad or pasta bar instead of only the regular lunch, he said.

Granite Superintendent Loren G. Burton said the district decided to turn over its food service program to an independent agency with the hope that such a move would resolve a longtime problem.

"There's a general feeling that they've (students, faculty and parents) wanted to upgrade food services," he said. For years, meals for the junior high and elementary schools in the district have been prepared in a central kitchen and then transported to the schools - sometimes cold.

Under Marriott's proposal, at least the final preparation of the meals will be made at the individual schools, which should give new meaning to the term, "hot lunch," Burton said. Furthermore, Werner said neither students nor the district will pay more for Marriott meals and service.

Sound too good to be true? Werner said the students will be the ultimate judges.

"We can't afford to do something wrong," he said. "If we didn't take care of the kids, no one will stay in our hotels."

Marriott currently serves school lunches in 173 school districts throughout the nation, but Granite would be the first district in Utah to receive its services. A director will be sent to lead the program, but Werner said all current food services employees will remain employeed on the district payroll.

The contract with Marriott will only be for one year with an option for another, but Werner said he is not concerned about a short contract. "We've never had a district drop us from lack of satisfaction," he said. "We feel we're only as good as our last meal."