NORTH READING — School Committee members heard an upbeat assessment of the state of the school lunch program, which has rebounded in terms of student participation and meals served in the past couple of years.

Anna McGovern and Chris Callahan from Chartwells, the food service company serving North Reading, said the school lunch program weathered a successful transition and opening of the new high school and current middle school. In the new high school, Chartwells successfully launched a new breakfast program called the Main Street Cafe with the support of the student community.

McGovern praised the kitchen in the new school as outstanding. “It really comes alive when the students are in there,” she said.

Brian McAuliffe’s high school marketing class came up with the breakfast program’s name – Main St. Cafe – and put signs up throughout the school and the digital screens throughout the building are used to promote the program. The students like the fact the breakfast is actually available in the Main Street corridor and sales are steadily growing.

The Cafe serves Peet’s coffee which is very popular with the students and there’s a Breakfast Club loyalty card for students who spend $2.50 or more nine times and receive $2.50 off their next breakfast purchase. Peet’s is popular at colleges and is selling well at the high school also, McGovern said.

The breakfast program on Main Street is open from 7 to 7:30 a.m. and students and faculty can choose from breakfast sandwiches, baked muffins and bagels, assorted cereals and assorted fruit and juices in addition to the coffee. There’s also a breakfast program scratch ticket in which the students can win a free beverage or movie pass.

The Food Service Program has had a number of successes, most notably a 7.2 percent increase in the participation rate over the prior year. The trend is clearly rebounding and trending really well, according to Callahan, Chartwells regional manager.

The Chartwells Chef 2 School program, in which a Chartwells chef visits local school kitchens, has been very popular in the past and will be returning in March and they are working with the YMCA on an after school snack program.

Callahan explained how the number of meals served has rebounded from 2012, when new federal regulations came down and apparently turned off a lot of children on school lunches. The biggest dip was in 2013, the year the new regulations were in full effect. There was a rebound in 2014 and this year the estimate is to bounce back up again. “The thing for us is to have our vendors offer us new, creative meal choices,” he said.

“Our end goal is to get the students to sit down and use the cafeteria more,” he added.

Some of the challenges the food program is facing this year include:

• The late start to the school year because of the opening of the new high school. Those days will be tacked on to the end of the year in June. But the downside is that sales aren’t as high at the end of the year, Callahan said.   The scenario will likely be repeated in 2015 to accommodate the planned opening of the new middle school. “We’ll have to be creative at the end of the year and see what we can do to bolster sales,” he added.

• The weekly bake sales in the high school cut into program sales.

• Although overall meal counts are up, sales at the middle school have dropped slightly. Chartwells is considering a survey to find out why.

• Chartwells is continuing to operate separate kitchens at the middle and high schools. But they are planning for “efficiencies” next year when the middle school moves up to the new building and serving 1,500 students. The menus will be similar, said McGovern.

• They need to find ways to entice the students to spend more time in the high school dining area by making it a more comfortable, perhaps with music.

A parent in the audience advised McGovern and Callahan to constantly keep in communication with the students. An adult’s perspective is not the same as a high school or middle school student, she said.

“It would be good to get your input from them (the students), not from us,” she said.