Published Nov. 10, 2022
BY JEAN LEWELLEN
School food is one of the most criticized topics for a school campus. Students rely on cafeteria food to tide them over until getting home, whether it be a simple school day or a long evening of extracurriculars. Outside of the inherent complaining all schools face concerning cafeteria cuisine, there have been rising concerns from CHS students about the suitability of the options provided to those with dietary needs.
With the return to on-campus learning came a wave of changes to how schools treat nutritional services. In the 2022-23 school year, California became the first state to implement a Universal Meals Program, requiring all public schools to provide a nutritionally adequate breakfast and lunch for all students.
Statewide changes also came with local changes. On March 7, a new district director of nutrition services Alexis Supancic was hired and set out to make changes, the most important being an upgrade on choices provided after the return to in-person school in 2021.
“As the director of nutrition services, my job is to direct, organize and plan the department,” Supancic says. “The first thing I did was increase choices, so now there are five to six choices depending on the day, and hopefully more kids would want to come and eat.”
Student opinions as to whether they want to eat the food itself seem to differ. Despite an increase in those eating school lunch, CHS teens continue to raise questions about the food quality. In hopes of higher quality, some have brought up the potential addition of paid alternatives as numerous schools in the surrounding districts have done.
“The food is serviceable, and that’s all,” says senior Abel Villaseñor, who gets school lunch a few times a week. “I would rather have paid options with higher quality items than making everyone eat bad food for free.”
As it currently stands, the only paid option available on the CHS campus are the snacks available in the vending machines that receive weekly checks.
“The snacks in the machines are the same ones they give for free when you get the lunch, so it seems pointless to pay for them,” says sophomore Fiona Heilig, who receives school lunch almost every day.
Many students say they don’t find these options hearty enough to be a meal, leaving only vegetarian options on the main menu. Most complaints with the main menu concern lunches, whereas breakfasts are overall better received, while students report the availability of vegetarian breakfast options is not an issue.
“None of the food is utterly bad,” says sophomore Ezra Bogey, who gets food from the cafeteria daily. “I enjoy it all. It’s not Gordon Ramsay, but sometimes they bring in the Coco Puffs. God, it’s good.”
Even so, the Oct. 17 to Dec. 24 weekly meal menu does not list a vegetarian option for lunch every Friday. While the lasagna and garlic bread is vegetarian, the menu lacks indication of it as meat-free.
“We usually always have a vegetarian option,” Supancic says. “We did lasagna, and that was vegetarian. And we do different things. Every day is different. We have grilled cheese, cheese pizza. It just depends on the item. If that were to run out, we always have yogurt parfait or yogurt and granola.”
Teens at CHS regularly report vegetarian options running out midway through lunch with many saying the replacement options are not filling. Students similarly have reported menu inconsistencies or the options posted on the school website not always lining up with the options provided, once again vegetarian options seemingly being most affected.
Yet for those with extreme allergies, few, if any, of these main options on the CHS campus are safe to eat.
“I would love to get school food if I could eat it,” says senior Teagan Puryear, who has celiac disease, a severe gluten intolerance, and severe allergies to nuts. “It can be a hassle to put a meal together before school, and if I ever forget to do it or we don’t have enough in the house for me to bring, I simply won’t get lunch for that day.”
While many of those with medical dietary needs are unaware, if students with allergies are seeking school lunch, they can fill out a Special Meal Accommodation Form, a document found on the Nutritional Services page on the district website, that must receive doctor approval before being turned in to Supancic, who will construct an adjusted menu.
Supancic stresses providing for every person’s needs is not always possible, especially when the culinary staff at CHS works to provide food to campuses throughout CUSD, but CHS students continue to request more options and greater quality.