Photo by Yacob Reyes
The cafeteria at Gaither High School is home to a wide variety of things, but it’s no news that world-class food isn’t one of them. In recent years, students have grown weary not of the quality of the meals, but rather the quantity.
In response to these murmurs, The Pony Express released a survey asking students whether they believed that lunches had appropriate serving sizes, to which 74% of respondents said they didn’t.
This upset is partly due to a removal of the bag of SunChips, which was previously offered without charge as part of free or reduced school lunches. Students were left to assume the worst, as no explanation was initially provided regarding the sudden disappearance, which eventually led to rumors of alleged budget cuts.
Without this addition to the meal, the size of free lunches has reduced dramatically, something that can only be remedied for a price.
Despite small serving sizes, the cafeteria offers multiple additional food options for sale, ranging from bags of chips to hot side dishes, but for some this is simply not a reasonable or affordable cost.
So, if students are unable or unwilling to purchase more food for their lunches, are the free meal offerings enough to satisfy a growing teenager’s hunger throughout the day?
According to Cafeteria Manager Robin Haire-Johnson, “In most cases [the serving sizes] can be [enough] as long as three healthy meals are consumed a day.” Despite this, however, other members of the cafeteria staff have expressed some concern on the issue.
As of 2009, the number of students who qualified for a free or reduced lunch began increasing dramatically. In order to qualify, a student must be a member of a household which receives benefits from SNAP (food stamps) and other government assistance or have parents whose income places them below or at the poverty rate.
It is assumed that without these lunches, these children would either pose a financial burden on their parents, who buy food for them, or otherwise they would go without. Likewise, it would be reaching to assume that all of these students are consuming three healthy meals a day, even while schools provide free breakfast in the morning.
So, while from an administrative standpoint lunches appear to be hitting the mark, the students believe that to be far from the case.
“The proportions of [the] school lunches don’t match the food web they give us, where they say we need fruits, vegetables and proteins and this and that. They only offer a small amount of that and charge extra for any more, and for someone like me on free and reduced lunch I can’t afford to purchase that, and so I’m stuck with five nuggets, a milk, a juice and a ketchup packet,” said senior Julian Bolta.
With a federally-issued budget to spend, cafeteria management may seem to have their hands tied. But is money truly the issue?
As stated by Haire-Johnson, the federal budget hasn’t been trimmed whatsoever; the real reason behind the loss of SunChips lies within its nutritional value. When put into a bundle, the chips added too much salt and calories to the meal and were ultimately deemed unhealthy.
This begs the question: why a substitution wasn’t made, especially considering that the dollar amount per student has not changed.
While the district nutrition specialist and coordinator could not be reached for a comment, it appears that school lunches have been put on a diet: one that proves to be felt in the stomachs of many students.
“It’s hard to function throughout the day when I don’t get enough to eat at lunch,” said senior Logan Richardson.
As the issues regarding school lunches remain unaddressed, it appears students will have to wait and see how their meals will change in the years to come.