BC cafeteria offers healthy choices, but more options are needed

Everyone who has bought lunch at a public school or watched a high school movie or TV show knows that school cafeteria food sucks. In elementary school, kids in my grade experimented with the pizza, claiming it stuck to the wall and that the cheese bounced when balled up. In junior high and high school, people just went with it. The fact that chicken nuggets and patties are basically fat and bones with artificial flavor didn’t stop students from eating them, nor did one student’s claim that they found a chunk of someone’s thumb in their milk hinder those who drank school milk every day.

Additionally, school lunches are usually unhealthy. Pizza and hamburgers are offered every day along with a side of fries and salad bar that consists of only lettuce, cucumbers, ranch and some canned fruit or some grapes.

There are “healthy” options, like a boxed Caesar salad that is more cheese and dressing than anything. I once bought mashed potatoes with turkey gravy at school and received a side of fries as well as a whole baked potato. How was I supposed to eat three servings of potato in one sitting?

In contrast, Bellevue College always has a healthy option, even if it’s not the best quality. There is a full salad bar complete with many different types of lettuce, fruits and vegetables. They have at least three types of dressing, chicken salad, tuna salad, turkey slices, ham slices and eggs. There’s sushi, even if it’s not that good and many different types of sandwiches that can be made before one’s eyes as well as pre-packaged ones. The pizza and hamburgers that are offered daily are of a better quality than those at public schools and while the specials aren’t always healthy, bars like the pho bar, stir fry bar and omelet bar are.

Recently, public schools have been taking steps to make their food healthier – and going about it all wrong. Instead of broadening the salad bar in order to make it a full meal option, my district added another boxed healthy meal, carrots and celery with hummus. The district also kept cholesterol and carbohydrate-filled specials like brown, gross pasta with meat sauce, mac and cheese, chicken nuggets and turkey gravy with mashed potatoes.

Instead, the school took away most of the unhealthy snacks people bought and replaced the chips with baked versions, the muffins with smaller, blander ones and exchanged one brand of PB&J for another. They were switching unhealthy snacks for other unhealthy snacks that contain fewer calories.

I could think of so many ways to make healthier specials. Instead of turkey gravy with mashed potatoes that probably comes from a powder, how about a turkey or chicken leg with baked potato pieces? There is a method to baking potatoes to make them taste like fries. Why not make the pasta with meat sauce healthier and more delicious by giving the option of rice pasta? Packaged grilled cheese and mac and cheese could be replaced with ones made out of more fresh ingredients if they must be kept.

Adding more diverse and exciting things that high school students would eat to the menu would be beneficial to both the school’s profits and students’ health. Students like me actually want to eat healthy, and there are more of us than some would think. However, these suggestions may cost the schools more money, so they just buy the cheapest frozen stuff they can and market that to their students as healthy.

The same applies for Bellevue College, although they already offer rice pasta and stir fry on some days. The food is pretty cheap and the lack of quality causes many students to only buy the fries there, saying that it is the only good food item in the cafeteria.

Overall, BC is accomodating to their students with the quality and assortment of food that they offer. BC has gluten free options and the cafeteria often has organic vegetables for the salad bar. Coming to BC, I realized how terrible high schools are with their initiative to serve healthier options. In any case, both BC and public high schools still need to offer more options.

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