Students Should Have a Say in the Meals Provided in School

The Perspectives page of The Blue and White offers students and staff an opportunity to express their thoughts about topics that affect our school, our community, or the world at large. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Blue and White.

The following editorial was contributed by Senior Erika Nunez:

School is a source of social interactions, education, and — only to some — food. Food dictates mood, energy, and even learning drive. Even Snickers knows that “you’re not yourself when you’re hungry.” If that’s the case, then why are so many students casually skipping school meals? I can say, with pride, that I have been a loyal consumer of the school lunch. Notable by the strong relationship built with the regular chicken sandwich, immersed with sweet honey mustard. I’d sit in fourth period grateful for having A-lunch, while looking forward to that delectable companion that had always expected me at the end of the line. I then wondered; is everyone else this hungry, or do I just love food too much? School food should be an enticing meal that students look up to. Not a whole-wheat Strawberry PopTart that lacks original flavor for the price of nothing more than higher calcium and vitamin A levels.

Not once have I been asked to provide input on what was offered at lunch. We’re all too familiar with “No taxation without representation”. Well, I’ll do you one better, how about “No more being fed without hearing what I’ve said.” The mandatory nature of healthy foods in schools can be upheld in consideration of the wishes of students as well. Yes, there are currently options but are these options even truly healthy. The peanut butter jelly sandwich is notorious for its high fat, protein, and calories; pizza has its high carb and fat attributes; the salads are only available by chance. These meals may be healthier by replacing white bread with whole-wheat, but being healthier than unhealthy is not a feat worthy of acknowledgment. An example of one of the measures made to create healthier meal options would be the change from peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to peanut-free sandwiches with no jelly — an option available for those who have peanut allergies. An 11th-grade student in Apopka High explained how the new sandwich tasted “like sand” and continued to explain how he used to eat the pb&j every day and now skips lunch most of the time due to this unwanted change in the menu. [Pb&j sandwiches have returned.] His voice like many others was not considered, even though the change had a direct impact on his day.

Child obesity may be an increasing issue around America — depicted by the increasing rates of adolescent obesity in the National Center Biotechnology Information (5% in the 1970s; 14% in 2000; and 19% recently) — but the fault is not solely on school lunch. The fault is on the individual and the actions they take after school. Whether that student leaves their 7-hour school day and continues to stay active and eat healthily or drink soda and indulge in snacks is the true deciding factor. One school meal does not dramatically change one’s health; it takes a lifestyle of unhealthy habits.

After personally asking 628 students of Apopka High School whether they ate the school food or not, 62 percent of the students responded with NO. How can childhood obesity be the main concern when there is such an abundance of meal skipping? Both are unhealthy, yet only one can be directly associated with the quality of the school lunch. As an extension of this survey, of those students that responded yes, only 56 percent of the students actually enjoyed the meal, and 52 percent believed they had enough time to eat their meal. The number of students that are simply eating out of hunger instead of the joy of a delicious meal concerns. And almost as if the school knew most children would omit from this adequate meal, the time given during our lunch period was insufficient.

Let’s say the meals are slightly less nutritious, yet remarkably appealing to the taste buds. Could we see an increase in the number of students who decide to eat this school meal at this prime time (3-5 hours after breakfast) and discover an association with more lively students? As stated before, food directly affects the structure and function of the brain. This is evident with the rise of dopamine and norepinephrine levels upon the intake of protein that plays a role in mood, motivation, and concentration. It’s time to make the connotation surrounding the term school lunch more positive for teens. It all starts with the question; what would you like to eat?

P.S. Thank you, lunch ladies, I truly enjoy the chicken sandwiches and would like to see more apples instead of peaches… 🙂