I love it when people email and share their stories about school lunch. Unfortunately, it often takes me a long time to respond. I got a wonderful email from high school student. I believe that there’s no better way to understand school lunch than by hearing the thoughts of the students who eat lunch.
Bio: R. is a sixteen-year-old incoming junior at a high school in Southern California, who is an active athlete and interested in psychology and sociology.
I rarely ever buy lunch at my high school, because it is a little expensive to buy all the time and also because I prefer to make my own lunch before I leave for school, but I tend to carry a little money with me in case I forget my lunch. However, one of my best friends buys lunch every day, and I could definitely say that seeing the kinds of food he ends up with is quite possibly on of the reasons I rarely buy school lunch.
Every day, the snacks available include: Popsicles (the “Push Pop” kind), ice cream sandwiches, frozen “soft serve” ice cream, chips (baked or regular versions), pretzels (Rold Gold), Pop Tarts, Otis Spunkmeyer muffins, Goldfish, Rice Krispie Treats, Froot by the Foot, cinnamon rolls from a local bakery, and chocolate chip cookies. (I have no idea where the cookies come from, or if they are even fresh, because I’ve bought them once or twice and they tend to be stale.) Then you have a choice of beverage, and you can choose from 2% milk, chocolate milk, Gatorade, Vitamin Water, and regular bottled water.
On really hot days, I sometimes buy a carton of chocolate milk as a treat, though I always have bottled water with me at school. Milk is $0.75 for a small carton and $1.50 for a bottle. I know that a lot of people buy milk instead of bottled water, because water is $1.75 for a regular sized bottle, and people simply don’t want to pay that much. I also occasionally buy pretzels during the break between my classes (my school is on a block schedule, so we have three classes per day. Each class lasts two hours. We have a fifteen-minute break between our first and second class, and then forty minutes for lunch after the second class.) The pretzels are Rold Gold, as I said before, and they’re always fine, but then it would be pretty hard to mess them up because they are pre packaged.
Most of the entrees, however, are not name brand things. I’m pretty sure they are heated up and then wrapped in foil or plastic wrap. On a typical day, menu items available are cheeseburgers (I have had these and never, ever will again.), “spicy chicken” sandwiches, Smucker’s Uncrustables, “teriyaki” chicken over rice (something else I will never eat again), macaroni and cheese, and Papa John’s Pizza. Additionally, two days a week, they sell bags of Little Caesar’s “Crazy Bread”, which are basically breadsticks with butter, garlic salt, and parmesan cheese on top.
Typically when I buy lunch, I buy the pizza because I know where it comes from, and honestly I trust Papa John’s more than the school lunch. I bought the cheeseburger once, and I’m honestly not sure there was even real meat in it. The cheese had melted into the bun, and the patty did not taste like beef. Also, there were no vegetables on top, and ketchup and mustard are not available. I have also had the teriyaki chicken, and while it may have been real chicken, it was not good. Also, there were only a few small pieces of chicken over a lot of white rice. There was no teriyaki sauce on it, so it was overall pretty bland. I have never had the macaroni and cheese, but it doesn’t get very positive reviews. Most of the people I’ve asked say that the ratio of noodles to “cheese” is way off, so there are a few limp noodles floating in a lot of artificial cheese. I’ve also been told that the cheese tastes like the “cheese” you squirt out of a can. I don’t buy the Uncrustables because they just don’t appeal to me, but at least they are not tampered with at the school, so they’re probably fine. The “spicy chicken” sandwich is supposedly very good, though I believe it is also frozen and then heated up. This is something a friend of mine buys often, and it always smells really good, but I’ve never bought it. The “Crazy Bread” also always smells good, but it is served with choice of chips and a drink, so I can’t imagine how it could ever be healthful, no matter what you choose to go with it.
After I looked at Mrs. Q’s “breakfast in the classroom” posts, I decided to check on what’s available at school for breakfast, and I’ve discovered that the following items are offered: donuts, Pop Tarts, sausage biscuits (similar to those on the menus of McDonald’s and Jack in the Box), muffins (pre packaged), coffee cake (pre packaged), bagels with cream cheese, and a couple different cereals, including Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Apple Jacks, and Honey Nut Cheerios. With the exception of the muffins, I have never bought breakfast, so I don’t know how it is. I’d imagine it’s probably fine, though, because only the sausage biscuits involve any work.
Also, I would like to note that my school is located close to a Henry’s (healthy grocery store), Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, a few frozen yogurt places, a few Mexican food places, Pick Up Stix, McDonald’s, Starbucks, and a couple other restaurants. My school has a rule that only seniors are allowed to leave campus for lunch. However, due to budget cuts, there is no longer anyone to check the grade level of the students that leave, so juniors and seniors can pretty much go wherever they like, and many underclassmen just walk right off campus for lunch.
Prior to ninth grade, I always attended parochial school, and the lunch there was very different. My school was Kindergarten through eighth grade, and there were two hundred and seventy students total. (One-tenth of the number of students that attend my high school.) Hot lunch was made daily by parent volunteers. You signed up for a certain number of days, and then lunch was prepared fresh on site. Lunch always included an entrée, fruit, a vegetable, a snack (such as chips or pretzels), and a cookie, with a choice between water, skim milk, or 100% fruit juice to drink. Hot lunch entree items I remember were homemade chicken noodle soup, chicken Caesar salad, homemade macaroni and cheese, deli sandwiches (similar to Subway, you wrote down what size of sandwich, type of bread, meat, cheese, vegetables, and condiments you wanted, and it was prepared for you), and spaghetti and meatballs. Everything was fresh and it was always very good.
Due to the size of my high school, it is simply not possible to have that kind of lunch program. However, I do think changes could be made for a healthier program. As you can tell, there aren’t really any healthy items available at my school. I think this would be especially important because our athletic teams are nationally ranked. I run distance for the track team, and am a member of the cross-country team, so I understand how food affects the way people exercise.
The last thing I would like to mention is that we do not have any problem with the time we have for lunch. The lunch lines move quickly, and there has never been a problem with not everyone being served. I usually bring my lunch, and I always have extra time when I am done eating, so that is a good thing. We don’t really have places to run around, but it is high school, so no one is really interested in running around anyway, as people prefer to socialize during lunch.
Thank you for reading, and I would be happy to answer any questions you might have if you leave them in the comments below.