The student news site of Carlmont High School in Belmont, California.

Scot Scoop News

The student news site of Carlmont High School in Belmont, California.

Scot Scoop News

The student news site of Carlmont High School in Belmont, California.

Scot Scoop News

Schools struggle to bring cultural diversity to the lunch table

Antonina Mikriukova
A student types in their student ID during Thursday lunch as a food service staff member hands them a bowl of chicken noodle soup. The cheeseburger – a common lunch staple – is listed on the daily menu. According to senior Harrison Campbell, Carlmont almost always offers a burger or a chicken-based meal as one of the main lunch options.

Around 6 million kids in public schools get free breakfast and lunch as a result of California’s Universal Meals Program, according to CalMatters

The program remains the leading lunch program in California.

Nutrition remains one of the top priorities for school meals, as demonstrated by the first pillar of California’s Universal Meals Program, according to the California Department of Education. Inclusion and cultural diversity follow suit, as California remains one of the nation’s most diverse states

“We always strive to provide a wide variety of meals that honor all of our communities and don’t prevent anyone from eating or being included on any given day,” said Sandra Jonaidi, the Director of Food Services at Sequoia Union High School District (SUHSD).

SUHSD strives to be sensitive to the dietary restrictions of its community, according to Jonaidi. For instance, the lunch kitchen substitutes pork for turkey and tries their best to provide meat alternatives. Yet some schools, including Carlmont, have trouble providing for students’ various dietary needs.

Outside nutrition, Jonaidi also sees ethnically diverse menus as an important factor in school meals. 

“Ethnically diverse menus are important to me. We strive to bring that to our work life, especially when creating menus,” Jonaidi said. “Regulations can cause restrictions, but we always try to work around the non-compliant items to find something that works.”

Some students, such as senior Harrison Campbell, say that diverse foods are rare and often don’t represent the various ethnic groups that make up the student body.

“I don’t think they really try when they put out culturally diverse foods. What they do is pick the most popular, quick-eat food that counts as culturally diverse,” Campbell said.

Despite different arguments about the existence of ethnically representative meals in schools, some say that diverse school food does not always have a helpful impact on a school community.

According to Michelle Lo, a sophomore, Carlmont offers some diverse options, but they can frequently be “distasteful and unauthentic.” 

“I don’t think offering diverse food options builds a more accepting community because more often than not, the more diverse food options taste worse than another option, or people aren’t willing to take the risk and try a lunch food that could be really bad,” Lo said. 

In response to criticism, the school district makes its best attempts to include diversity in lunches. According to Jonaidi, the district chef develops the school menus with the assistance of site leads, central kitchen staff, and Jonaidi herself. Ultimately, students decide which meals return to the lunch line, as SUHSD sees how well certain foods are received by the students and adjusts production appropriately. 

“I’m often shocked to find that our students want the same items that are processed and not as healthy as I would like to see them put in their bodies. For example, a spicy chicken burger versus a spaghetti bolognese that we make from scratch,” Jonaidi said.

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About the Contributor
Antonina Mikriukova
Antonina Mikriukova, Staff Writer
Tonya Mikriukova (Class of 2026) is a sophomore at Carlmont High School and is excited to join the Scot Scoop team this year. She loves learning about her community and participating in local events. In her free time, Tonya can be found reading, rehearsing for a theatre production, or hanging out with friends.

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