Picture the scene: it’s 11:25 am in the EHS Cafeteria. Students are attacking the building on all fronts, ready to refuel after a long morning of classes. Some bring their own lunch, while others buy from the cafeteria. As usual, a line quickly forms outside the service area and only grows larger over the next ten minutes. Even when it dies down, students continue buying snacks, drinks, and desserts, as they finish their lunches. School lunch is a huge part of every Edgemont students’ life, so it’s important to understand what changes have been made in the cafeteria and to answer the question – is it better now?
It turns out that the biggest challenge with running a school cafeteria is staffing, or, as described by Amber Ho-Shing, the EHS Cafeteria Manager, “having enough people working in the kitchen.” If any of the cafeteria staff can’t come to work, it makes the job much more difficult for everyone else working that day. Another challenge, according to Ms. Ho-Shing, is “how the kitchen is designed”. Edgemont High School was built in 1955, and although the cafeteria has changed since then, much of the equipment is relatively outdated and difficult to use.
According to Ms. Ho-Shing, the main changes from last year are in the quality of food, variety of menu choices, and presentation. Some of the new items added include chili bowls, baked potatoes, and gyros. Ms. Ho-Shing has also focused on making school lunches more interesting through the addition of a waffle and ramen bar, giving students more choices in their daily lunch options. Lastly, she placed her emphasis on presentation in motivating the staff to make the dishes more appealing, rather than food just being “slopped on the plate.”
Another change is the placement of a whiteboard menu outside the cafeteria in the administration building. This makes buying lunch easier for students, allowing them to see what is being served without having to cut the line and risk being yelled at by either staff or one of many patiently waiting customers. This also comes as a response to the fact that the online lunch menu is rarely accurate, and according to Ms. Ho-Shing, this method is “a better way to communicate”. The reason for the lag between the online menu and what actually gets served is that the cafeteria staff tries to use as many fresh products as possible, so the menu may be altered to include ingredients that are in the kitchen on any given day.
With all this added variety and improved quality, one big question remains: how have students responded? Well, it appears that Edgemont students have overwhelmingly noticed an improvement in school lunch. Out of the students surveyed by Campus, 76% responded that this year’s cafeteria food has improved from last year. Further data show the results these improvements have had in practice. (Note that all data are based on buying a full meal at school, not just snacks and drinks). 14% of students said they bought lunch one or two days a week last year, while this year, that number is up to 23%. While this is a notable increase, the number of students buying lunch three to five days a week actually decreased from 30% to 25%. Overall, the number of students buying lunch at least once a week increased from 44% to 48%.
With clear and real improvements in school lunches as a whole, the biggest complaint remaining is the price. One junior noted that “the food is fine, but the prices are somewhat ridiculous,” while a sophomore said that “I think it can be summed up as food quality increases, prices increase with it.”
Other critiques included that by late lunch, the cafeteria is sometimes severely understocked. One senior remarked that “it would be helpful if the cafeteria actually did offer the items listed for each day on the online menu, which is what I, as someone who doesn’t buy every day, look at to determine whether or not I want to buy lunch [on] a certain day.”
It seems that despite these criticisms, most students appreciate the improvements in school lunch, with one eighth grader saying, “I think that the options are so much better than last year. It isn’t too repetitive anymore and the taste has somewhat improved.” One senior wrote that “along with the increase in quality, the food has recently expanded to include different cuisines from the world, which I really appreciate.” Overall, despite the increasing prices deterring some students from buying lunch, it seems that the cafeteria has greatly improved the lunch options, and Edgemont students have noticed.