Unsigned: School Lunches Must Consider Student Diets

   Picture this: your stomach grumbles as the bell rings, signaling the beginning of your brief middle-of-day break. As you get in line for lunch, you are met with pepperoni pizza, chicken caesar salad, fish tacos, and pulled pork paired with a dinner roll — an unpleasant sight for your meatless diet. Food choices vary from student to student, with some packing lunch, others opting to eat after school hours, and quite a few settling on school-provided meals. Many students go for this option given it is free of charge, yet it comes with its limitations. Lack of vegan, vegetarian, kosher and halal options on the school menu restrict many students who depend on these meals on a daily basis.

   A research study completed in September 2021 by investigators from the International SocioEconomics Laboratory and the Bangladesh University of Professionals studied the benefits of offering diverse food options such as kosher and vegetarian/vegan options for New York City (NYC) schools, accounting for the variable of familial income in their study. The researchers found that, “…many students with dietary restrictions skip lunch and that most participants were inconvenienced by lunch costs” and “implementing more food choices, it is predicted more students would eat lunch, reducing the economic loss for families and schools, and would also reduce familial stress” (papers.ssrn.com).

   A great number of students at UC High are forced to adapt their circumstances to what is available. Sophomore Arielle Bronshteyn follows a vegetarian diet, and finds it hard to select a meal for most lunch periods. “I often walk into the cafeteria to see a row of meals including chicken, and I’m forced to choose from small side meals like apples and wait until after school to eat,” said Bronshetyn.

   Sociologist Adina Batnitzky studies Arab American health discrepancies at the University of San Diego and has been interviewed by CalMatters. She expressed that having a limited option of meals that align with one’s religious or cultural beliefs can, in the short term, hinder students’ focus in school. Not only that, but the issue at hand leads to the ostracization of minority groups on campus, as these communities are not given the same attention and provisions

as others. Batnitzky agreed that diet-aligning meals for all students is nutritionally important as well as “educationally important and symbolically important” (calmatters.org).

   Meal plans that insufficiently satisfy many students’ diets are continuously implemented in educational institutions despite their ineffectiveness, usually a result of barriers such as a limited budget. According to the Food Management website, in the 2014-2015 school year, San Diego Unified School District’s (SDUSD) Crawford High School served a halal chili lime chicken bowl twice a week. The bowl was served at the school’s Wok N Bowl station to ensure no cross-contamination occurred, and cost the district 19 cents more to produce then standard drumsticks — but the extra effort went far from unnoticed by students. When the bowl was first released, “participation increased by 400 students,” said Mr. Gary Petill, a food service director at SDUSD. While the participation did curb after a few weeks to around “260 to 280 students,” the bowl remained “one of the most popular dishes on the [Crawford High School’s] menu” by far. The bowl may have initially cost more to make, yet this extra cost was made up for thanks to the rising student consumption of the product (food-management.com).

   The amped-up cost of halal, kosher or animal-product-free meals has continuously shown to dissipate as these meals are produced on a larger scale. According to CalMatters, Dearborn Public Schools, a district outside Detroit, began serving halal meals in cafeterias in 2001. At first, “…halal meals cost the district about 33 percent more than their non-halal offerings.” However, as the district started buying from halal distributors in larger quantities, the price of producing each individual meal leveled out with their standard meal plans. In addition to a similar price, “foods are precooked and require the same amount of preparation as non-halal meals once they arrive at the district’s cafeterias” (calmatters.org).

   Students with differing diets deserve the same level of attention as those who abide by standard meal plans. When the demand for these food types are high enough, price barriers start to disappear and student participation increases. School districts need to get the ball rolling when it comes to tailored meals, as it would benefit students who depend on school-provided meals daily.