Students have noticed an increase in healthier foods offered for school lunches, but, for many, that’s not necessarily enough to make them eat healthier.
Bridgewater-Raritan business administrator Peter Starrs said the district participates in a child nutrition program that funds meals at the schools, and the USDA has implemented new food regulations.
This is all being done through the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was put in place to combat obesity. School districts that do not comply are levied hefty fines.
But that’s not enough to satisfy students at Bridgewater-Raritan High School.
“On the upside, there are more healthy sides like beans and salads that come with meals,” said senior Amulya Yalamanchili. “On the downside, portions are significantly reduced while prices have increased. The emphasis on healthier food is clear, but it does not seem like the changes are encouraging students to eat healthier.”
Because next to those offerings of healthier choices, Yalamanchili said, are still the choices to purchase chips, cookies and ice cream. And with smaller portions and higher prices available to high school students, she said, it just makes sense to go with the junk sometimes.
“It seems clear that students would turn to the cheaper and less healthy junk food options,” she said. “The fresh food vending machine in the cafeteria is rarely used because, quite frankly, the fruit does not taste fresh at all, and as a result, is not usually stocked.”
Many students agree that the quality is just not there anymore.
“Everything is smaller, more expensive and generally not as good,” said senior Kirby Gong.
And junior Krishna Chamarti said she finds the food to be very inconsistent.
“The type of fries and quality of them changes everyday,” she said. “The new cookies are awful, the quality and quantity of everything used to be more.”
Senior Andrew Trinker agreed.
“The food is good one day and bad the next,” he said. “I think the freshness issue and new choices would be how I would change cafeteria lunches.”
And junior Jake Marshall said he finds the lettuce on sandwiches to be brown, not green like it should be.
With the changes being made, Yalamanchili said, she believes the key is to provide healthier ingredients in the food, while maintaining reasonable portions so students actually feel full after they have eaten.
“Recently, it became known that school board members claimed that students should buy more food if they felt hungry, but the fact is that the food portions are not adequate for the average students,” she said. “Those complaining are not simply those with bigger appetites.”
And one of the biggest complaints, Yalamanchili said, is the quality of the food itself.
“One of the biggest taste complaints seems to be the lack of taste of the new pizza offered,” she said.
Several students agreed that the quality has gone downhill.
“[The pizza] is pretty much the only thing I liked to eat last year, but now it’s like cheese with bad sauce on cardboard,” said senior Akhil Golla.
“My biggest complaint is to make the food fresher from lunch period to lunch period,” Trinker added. “People hate getting soggy food, and it is definitely not fair for the seventh period lunch people.”
And students are mixed on whether more people are bringing their lunches now, saying that the food is still too expensive, but they don’t see too much of a change.
“It’s way too expensive now, but I’m still buying,” said senior Stephanie Huang. “And I don’t think more people are bringing lunch because they don’t pay for it themselves.”
For many of the students, they just want to either get back to the way lunches used to be, or find a way to provide fresher food so it looks more enticing.
“Improve the taste and make serving sizes bigger so that kids are eating the healthy lunch and feeling full, and not supplementing it with fries, cookies and chips,” said senior Megan DiMichele.
“I think it is a pointless [change],” Marshall added. “Teenagers are going to eat unhealthy and they have to accept that.”