Letter to the Editor: School lunches severely lacking in taste, variety, nutrition

The students of EBC High School for Public Service in the Bushwick community are appalled over the state of our school lunches. Insufficient and poor quality foods are discouraging and distracting to students throughout the school day, and it seems that the issues with school lunches are citywide and affect the 1.1 million students in the Department of Education school lunch program, which is run by Mr. Eric Goldstein. If more money were provided for the school lunch program, food and education quality would improve.

Students are constantly complaining about the vile food that is served to them. When it isn’t flavorless or fully and properly cooked, it is inedible due to the fact that it has been served every day for the past several months. There is a clear lack of variety. Most of the time, we get the same meal at least twice a week — for example, pizza is served every day. It is clear to students, teachers and parents that the repeated food is often leftovers that are being reheated day after day. Students are also noticing that expiration dates are being overlooked on dairy products. Fruits are not being replaced and lose their freshness, discouraging the students from picking up a healthy snack instead of an unhealthy candy bar or bag of chips. School lunches lack the necessary flavor, variety, and quantity that promote healthier eating for children and teens.

A recent survey we conducted of 160 EBC students made it clear exactly how unhappy we are with our school food. The average rating of food quality was 2.6 on a scale of 1 to 10, with 94 percent of students marking 5 or below. 66 percent are “not satisfied” with the food variety, as compared to the 1.3 percent that are “very satisfied.” 89 percent of students believe they receive the same food three or more days of the week, 76 percent believe there are “no food options at all” and not a single student feels “very full” after a school lunch.

The food given in New York City public schools is also negatively affecting students’ stamina in class and their long-run educational progress. Meals lack protein, vitamins and calories, which are essential for a healthy diet. Each student is different — for example, students who play sports need more calories to maintain their momentum in games. Even students who don’t play sports need energy in order to maintain focus in classes. Hunger can affect grades, test scores and even the health of the students. Instead of concentrating on lessons they’re concentrating on growling stomachs and the next possible meal. This is a serious issue for students, who will ultimately get lower grades, as well as parents who will be upset with their child’s grades, and teachers who could possibly lose their jobs when schools and the state of New York get bad ratings. Obviously, the food the students consume has a major impact on their health and success.

Researching as a class, we have found proof that there are better school lunches out there. As an example, there is a slideshow that is part of an article called “School Lunches Around the World” on the Huffington Post that shows that other students in other countries receive better food. School food in America consists of a very small amount of protein, an even smaller amount of carbohydrates, a small fruit or frozen fruit cup and milk. In contrast, schools in other countries such as Japan serve rice, fish, a small serving of soup, a side of vegetables and milk — a considerably healthier meal.  Another picture of a U.S. meal shows a tray of what looks like chicken, but it is obvious that parts were raw. But when our food doesn’t look completely disgusting it looks completely unhealthy, like a picture posted of a school meal from Chicago that consists of two cheeseburgers, a large serving of fries and two servings of onion rings. On the other hand, a Swedish school lunch shows a plate with two pieces of sliced chicken breast, salad, potatoes and some pasta, which seems to be a filling meal. Viewing this slideshow made our class realize that there are choices beyond our everyday pizza and ham and cheese sandwiches.

The problem is the limited funds we receive from the government. Every student’s school lunch costs a measly $1.75 per meal. Schools across the country have hundreds of students, accumulating a cost of over $600,000 annually per school. For us to get better and more filling food, we need to increase funding. As much as a few more cents per meal can make the difference between a reheated slice of pizza and a healthier choice such as a piece of fish or some vegetables. This funding could come out-of-pocket, as many schools have done before when breaking their alliance with the school food program. The only problem is that working-class parents, who work hard to make ends meet and often receive help from government organizations, cannot accumulate the necessary funds to provide their children with daily lunch. The money could be raised, but how long until it runs out? A large amount of government money is going to funding wars, but the students who are working hard for a better future for the United States are put in second place. It doesn’t seem right, and we need a long-term solution.

Some who commented on our survey asked for a larger variety of choices. Others simply asked for larger portions. Comments such as “I’m just not pleased with school lunch” and “The food is still raw when they give it to us and it makes me sick” showed up more than once. We are confident that it is not just the students at EBC High School that feel this way. This is something that affects us all as students, teachers, parents and citizens of the United States.

A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, May 2 print edition. Carlos Lopez, Herbert Luna, Jonathan Santiago, Charina Tavarez and Heaven Valles are students at EBC Bushwick High School for Public Service. Email them at [email protected]