Dietary criteria in school lunches should be updated to students’ needs


Arya Pinnamaneni

For as long as I can remember my parents have been telling me to eat my whole plate and to not be wasteful because they pay a lot of money for the food. Or that some child in a distant country is starving and I am not. This has resulted in me taking what I need during meals and trying not to waste excess. However, the free lunch program, which this school implemented last year and has con`tinued through this year, has complicated that habit, as now wasting food or spending more money becomes a choice. To clarify a person’s school lunch to be free it has to meet certain dietary criteria, which includes taking a fruit or a vegetable. 

Without the fruit or vegetable, a student lunch will not be discounted. While in theory this requirement means students will eat healthier foods, in practice it ends creating more food waste as students take food they don’t want. Certainly the disproportionate number of students taking fruit or vegetables and not eating then skews the cafeteria’s production records. This in turn, leads to more produce being ordered because of a distorted statistic. The problem is not with cafeteria management or the students themselves, but with the policy. Requiring students to take unwanted fruits or vegetables not only generates more food waste but costs the school more money. It costs the students who choose to opt out of the free lunch program in school, choosing less lofty alternatives. The program doesn’t make sense. Why  should students have to pay if they opt to get only the main entree portion without the fruit of veggie? There simply is no reason to monetize less food than what meets the criteria. After  all, students’ dietary needs and habits vary  widely from athletes who need bigger portions to vegetarians and vegans, who have different needs and everything in between. 

With all this being said should the free lunch program continue, it’s time to make adjustments to it.  Not only will these changes save money, they may also help the environment by reducing the amount of food waste. Though the free lunch program is bigger than simply Carmel and adjusting the policy may be beyond CHS’s reach, we can at least make efforts to identify what fruits and vegetables are actually being eaten. This way, we do not have to waste money on what will be thrown away.

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