The Fenway students were in the process of completing a project on school food for their class and came to give their opinions. Through their project, they learned about the USDA requirements for school meals, such as the calorie, sugar, and salt limits, and they were surprised to discover how stringent these standards are. They also discovered their own calorie and nutrient needs based on age, weight, level of physical activity, and gender from other online nutrition programs. They also found, however, that the meals did not always match their personal requirements. The students mentioned feeling hungry after eating their meals, and upset that they were not able to get more food for meals that they enjoyed.
There was also another high school student from the Henderson Inclusion School. He mentioned the food being undercooked and not appetizing. The two groups from completely different high schools tended to agree on most aspects of the food, including that it was often undercooked or overcooked in their cafeteria kitchens, that the meals were much too small for high school students, and that they would be willing to try cuisines from different cultures in order to learn about them, as long as there were some options for students who did not want to eat the food or who had some dietary restrictions. They claimed that there was a limited variety of the food in a given week, and the science teacher noted that he wished that there were more parent choice in menu offerings for young students, such as his children.
It was interesting to see the overlap between the two schools. They are both cafeteria schools, and both groups agreed that the food improved drastically after transitioning from a satellite school to a cafeteria school. However, the meals could still be more culturally relevant and prepared better. They did say that the cafeteria staff were great and that it was not so much the environment of the cafeteria at their schools, it was mostly their concerns with the food preparation.
It would be very interesting to hear from more students from schools with the new My Way Cafe model from the Shah Family Foundation that is new in East Boston, Roxbury, and soon to be in Dorchester. We heard from one student at the Umana during a coalition meeting who said that there was a definite language barrier between the students and the staff, but it would be interesting to hear more about food perceptions as well.
We are excited to soon be doing more meetings within existing school groups, such as parent councils, as well as surveying busy family members and students about school food and the cafeteria. We hope that we will get yet more feedback on food options, and connect with far more community members this way. We will be doing these meetings at the Maurice J. Tobin School in Mission Hill, the Mario Umana Academy in East Boston, Thomas J. Kenny School in Ashmont, and other schools who want to participate.
This post was written by Sarah Curless, FoodCorps AmeriCorps Service Member at the Thomas J. Kenny School.