The Past and Present of School Lunch
By: Paxton Decker
“It kind of tastes like plastic,” senior Aimee Wolf said. “I refuse to eat it… like I go out to lunch because I can’t, I just can't.”
School lunch is often as common a complaint as our nightmare of a parking lot and swarms of people clogging the hallways.
Once upon a time--or three years ago--there was a very different program.
“I just remember freshman year on Thursday, I would wake up really excited because it was pasta day,” Wolf said.
“When you could make the burrito bowls that was like Chipotle where you get the rice… and they had like teriyaki chicken, Chinese food,” fellow senior, Halle Jensen said.
There was a sense of reminiscence and longing, a remembrance of a more civilized age.
For the unfortunate freshmen, sophomores, and juniors, this was our old school lunch program. We had real food, sandwiches, pasta, even olive oil. Our kitchen was a kitchen, that cooked things, rather than a de-thawing assembly line.
But why would anyone take away the paradise that was school lunch?
The truth is that an increasingly strict web of federal, state, and local requirements trap the Cherry Creek School District lunch between meeting these mandates and a tight budget.
“We can [only] work with the budget that we have, that’s one of our biggest constraints, [on top of] the district guidelines,” Food and Nutrition Supervisor Prescilla Bloom said, “but without different funding, without different legislation, we’re kind of in this box. We can’t really change what we’re doing currently.”
“One of the interesting points of tension I would say is that without the federal guidelines, you’re a little more freewheeling with what you can offer,” Food and Nutrition Supervisor, Luke Sheally said.
However, with the free and reduced lunch funding on the line, it is too fiscally costly for the district to experiment with.
The strictest of the federal mandates is the Obama-era Food and Federal Funding Act, which carries increasingly specific requirements.
“You have to have a fruit, have to have vegetables, you have to have… a certain amount of salt. It only allows a certain amount of calories per day, and those things, that was implemented in Congress,” Activities Director and Food Services supervisor Allison Beaird said.
Because of the tight restraints, the old school lunch was an attempt to provide higher quality and better tasting food by buying food without federal money in order to avoid said rules.
At first, Grandview was doing well.
“We piloted the program very well, and we were actually doing really well, and we actually tried to advocate that we [Grandview] continue on the program even though Cherry Creek High School was going off the program,” Beaird said.
Cherry Creek High School’s lunch program was not doing so well, and the school couldn’t fund its free and reduced lunch programs.
“The DECA business program was selling food and lunches, so it was hurting the district [provided lunch sales], it was making money go into the hole,” Beaird said.
Grandview did not have this issue, but the Administration wanted to maintain a similar lunch program among all schools.
“Some of our hurdles was just that we couldn’t make this program work for every single high school,” Bloom said. “We really care about equity and want to make sure we have the same things at every school available to our students.”
As a result, Grandview dropped the program.
Regardless of the murky upper politics and requirements, the Grandview consensus on school lunch is clear.
“Pretty shitty,” Jensen said.
What should we do?
The suggestion was simple.
“Bring back the freshman year lunch,” Wolf said.
Unfortunately in the current situation, that seems unlikely. Either the federal government must allow more unhealthy foods, elementary kids must enjoy eating salmon and kale, or voters will actually have to start funding education at acceptable levels. Until then, the future is as much of a mystery as the meat in our trays.