In our hands
November 9, 2022
Every day at lunch, millions of students nationwide line up for meals provided by the school. In the school year from 2021 to 2022, the National School Lunch Program program provided 2.2 billion meals, 98.9% of which were served free or at a reduced price, as reported by the USDA.
Most cafeterias in America, including the Sequoia Union High School District (SUHSD), serve a variety of foods covering all five food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy.
Sandra Jonaidi, the director of food services for the SUHSD, describes how funding from the USDA and the state of California to feed students is used to source nutritious meals.
“The first pot we allocate money towards is called the Department of Defense. This helps us buy fresh seasonal produce throughout the year. The second pot is called the brown box, where items such as broccoli, frozen fruit cups, hamburgers, turkey roasts, and ground beef fall into this category. The third pot is for processed foods. We buy these at a significantly discounted rate because of the commodity food contribution,” Jonaidi said.
The three pots include all the nutrition a student would need to last throughout the school day. However, many choose not to consume healthier meal offerings.
Carlmont junior Hana Beydoun shares her perspective on how lunch choices result in students not gaining sufficient nutrition.
“I think the popular items are pizza, sandwiches, and then at the bottom of the ladder, it’s salads. The salads are so unappetizing that it’s just not a good option. People are not getting what they need in their daily diets from school lunches,” Beydoun said.
Along with improving the food quality, the SUHSD has to consider the sustainability of the food purchased. According to Jonaidi, they buy locally-grown produce with no chemicals. This creates the issue of only being able to buy items that are in season, so the district is thinking of ways to solve this problem.
“At the moment, I am very interested in trying to get a container farm so that we can grow our own salad items year-round and no longer use commercially purchased salad. Hopefully, we can get that rolling before the end of this school year,” Jonaidi said.
The distribution of free lunches also leads to food waste. The California Department of Education states that milk is required in all Child Nutrition Programs, and students must take a carton. It also declares that the cafeteria must provide students with free fresh fruit or vegetables to teach them about good nutrition. Yet the good intentions of these policies are backfiring.
Be aware of what food you put in your mouth, school meals are actually always healthy, and our menus are created to optimize a healthy lifestyle.”
— Sandra Jonaidi
“The cafeteria forces kids to take milk and fruit they don’t even eat, so it ends up in garbage cans. Compost bins are so far apart and sparse that people just throw them away,” Beydoun said.
Schools are conscious of food waste that piles up every lunch. Share bins are being placed on campuses to collect untouched food and hopefully reduce the amount of food thrown away.
“I would encourage every school to see what they can do with the food left in the share bin because it can be donated,” Jonaidi said. “When I visit schools and see so much food in trash cans, it’s upsetting.”
More compost bins are scattered around the campus, but this could encourage students to toss their food instead of putting it in the share bins.
Jonaidi urges students to send suggestions to help schools improve their menus.
“Be aware of what food you put in your mouth, school meals are actually always healthy, and our menus are created to optimize a healthy lifestyle. You can help us evolve by sending in recommendations or recipes. We will do what we can to add them while keeping them within the federal guidelines so we know they’re healthy,” Jonaidi said.