School lunches

Many school lunches in America are made to appeal to the student body, which usually entails many unhealthy options to keep the sales high and the students happy.  Of course, the cafeteria in any school wants to attract the kids and make them feel like they have somewhere safe and fun to eat.  Comfort food is usually the solution to this and what many school districts turn to.  It is a tough situation, however, because there is the debate and the many years of trial and error with healthy versus unhealthy food that should be served in the cafeteria.  It is a constant battle for the students, parents, and teachers deciding between what is counted as healthy, how much it costs, portion control and other things to consider.

I interviewed Cristina Mercedes, a cook here at Sacred Heart Academy, and she answered a few questions regarding the topic.

GM: How do you decide on what meals to include on the lunch menu?

CM: The meals are actually on a pre-made, monthly menu.  The supervisor gives us the menu for the month and we follow it and switch it with items that are more popular.  If one of the students asks for a suggestion, we incorporate that as well.

GM: What meal would be considered the most popular meal?

CM: Probably tacos.  Chinese is popular too but tacos is much more popular.  We have gone through 40 pounds of meat when we serve tacos.

GM: How would you describe the lunches?

CM: We try to make our meals as authentic as possible to the cuisine we are presenting. Sometimes we do fusion foods.  We taste test things to make sure things taste authentic.

GM: Would you say most of the meals are healthy or unhealthy?

CM: The majority are unhealthy, definitely.  If I make a basic meal, a grilled chicken with a vegetable, those are one of the hot lunch meals that are more balanced.  And of course, the salads that are offered.

GM: Would you take input or suggestions from students?

CM: I would absolutely accept and be open to input form the SHA students.

To get a more personal take on this subject, I took the liberty in making and sending out a survey where there were a few similar questions related to school lunch that students themselves could answer.  The first question I asked was whether or not the students liked the lunches here at SHA.  Out of the 40 responses that came in, 90% of girls said they do like the school lunches and 10% said they did not like them.  The second question I asked was if the students thought the lunches were overall healthy or unhealthy.  The majority said they thought the lunches were unhealthy and only 16 people out of 39 said they were healthy.  I would agree with the people that said unhealthy because if we are being honest, they are.  The unhealthy meals taste good and most people like them for that sole reason.  Also, school lunches are easy and quick.  Students do not have to worry about forgetting their lunchbox at school, carrying it around all day, or running to their locker to grab it fast enough so they could get a seat in the café.  With school lunch, they just have to bring a few dollars with them for a filling, tasty meal.

Even though school lunches are quick and easy, the majority of students from the poll say that they actually bring instead of buy their lunch.  32.50% of people buy their lunch and 67.50% bring it.  I would say that is accurate because even though the school lunches taste good, they can be a bit pricey if a student buys lunch every day which is why I, too, bring my own lunch most of the time.  For the people that buy lunch, the most popular meal that they buy is the chicken tenders and fries.  The second most popular meal was a tie between an open-ended free response option that was listed and fries with pizza.  I asked a question of how students would describe our school lunches and most of the students said good out of the four listed options of great, good, fair and poor.  One of the last questions I asked was if students would like to see a change in the school lunches and 38 people answered.  Out of the 38 people, 63.16% of people said they would like to see a change.

Some of the suggestions for the changes in a school lunch were things like, “Healthier lunches”, “Less greasy and fried foods and more vegetarian options” and “I think healthier options should be available daily, such as broccoli or corn as a side. Fries should not be the only small snack offered.”  Clearly, healthier options for lunch are wanted.  The main concern, though, is if they were to include healthier options, they probably would not sell as well because they might not taste so sweet or as savory as the students are used to so then it would just go back to the unhealthy lunches.  Students bringing up their own ideas and suggestions to the cooks at school may solve a big part of the issue.  If students are as concerned about unhealthy lunches as they say, they have the freedom to try and do something about it themselves.  As Mercedes, said she “would absolutely accept and be open to input form the SHA students.”  Most students are aware of the unhealthiness of foods that surround them every day in the outside world, not just in school.  If they voiced their awareness and their concern, maybe things could change to satisfy the healthy lunch issue.

Everyone loves fruit, vegetables, junk food, salads, pizzas, and fries at different times.  Everyone also wants stay healthy and be fit, including high school students.  With that comes self-discipline and determination.  With the lunches served at SHA, students may have to take into their own consideration of what they should eat for that day or maybe bring lunch more often instead of buying school lunch if they want to eat healthier.  It is all about eating in moderation for everyone, not just SHA girls.  With a balance of determined students, a few more healthy options add on the lunch menu, and an open-minded cook, the lunches can be better than ever before!