Hungry For Change


Kira Pan, Graphics Editor

After a morning of lectures and tests, the only thing lingering in the air is the growls of stomachs as students count down to the bell for lunch. However, these hungry students are often handed portions far too small to last them the school day.

PHS is one of many schools to participate in the new Universal Meals Program issued by the California Department of Education (CDE) during the 2022-2023 school year, according to the PUSD website.

In previous years, students were able to choose from a selection of brunch and lunch options ranging from $5-8, and also were provided the option to purchase meal supplements such as pretzels, Cheez-its, or La Croix for lunch. Now, under the Universal Meals Program, food service only provides one option for brunch. There is a lunch choice of Caesar Salad and meal of the day, or a vegetarian (occasionally vegan) alternative with no choice to purchase snacks. In an effort to provide balanced meals, food service hands students fruits and a milk carton for brunch, and the salad bar is open during lunch.

Although I find the food selection generally satisfactory, the meals vary greatly in quality. Pizza day is no doubt more popular than meatloaf with rice. Given that this is a statewide meal program aimed to provide free food, I understand that there are strict limitations on the quality of the options provided. I get food from the cafeteria more often than I did last year despite sometimes not liking the selection, because it is now provided free of charge. 

However, it remains that there is room for improvement under the Universal Meals Plan. When getting food in the midst of the brunch rush, students are not allowed to decline a fruit and carton of milk alongside their snack. As a result, many students drop off their fruit and milk in a tray by the door on their way out. The system of handing students a fruit and carton of milk even when they don’t want either slows down the brunch line, because the food service volunteers scramble to put all the components of the brunch together, only for it to go to waste. If students forget to drop their extra fruit or carton off in the tray on their way out, they either go into the trash or are littered around campus. Instead of forcing students to take the fruit and milk, fruit selections and milk cartons should be set up at a table for students to pick up on their way out if they choose to, as is being done with the salad bar system.

The most frequent complaints from students in response to the implementation of the new meals program are regarding the small portion sizes at lunch. On Feb. 8, I received a lunch portion that was smaller than the size of an orange to suffice me for the rest of my day at school. According to the PUSD website as of Feb. 2023, “students will still be able to purchase a second meal.” However, this is not consistently practiced. Students are sometimes turned away by food service for seconds when they still feel hungry after their first portion. Some students are so desperate for more food that they turn to using the student numbers of friends who do not eat school lunch to get second portions.

One solution would be to allow students to get seconds after a certain time, which would ensure everyone who wants first gets their food, and people who are still hungry can return for more. In addition to allowing students to get seconds, snacks should be made available for purchase as were previously offered. The Universal Meals Program’s FAQs page states, “[districts] will still be able to sell nonprogram foods while operating the California Universal Meals Program.” Students have expressed repeatedly that they would be willing to purchase supplementary snacks if they were provided. According to a survey of 293 students conducted by civics class group, 83.2% of the student body would be willing to purchase additional snacks if they were offered. The portions given by the school are not sufficient for hungry kids, but simple solutions could address these concerns without inflicting extra cost upon the school.


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