PACK OR BUY? THE NUMBERS DON’T LIE
LINCOLN PARK STUDENTS SHARE OPINIONS ON SCHOOL LUNCHES
May 23, 2023
According to a recent survey of Lincoln Park students, over 25 percent of students don’t buy school lunch at all. They pack, and according to that same survey, almost 30 percent say this because the food is cheaper to pack than to buy.
“I used to buy it every day when I was able to get it for free,” says Sarah Ake, a theatre major from Baden.
The 11th grade student also replied to the reasoning behind packing lunch. “The cost of lunch would add up quickly if I bought everyday. Also I prefer making my own food than eating at school.”
The price of school lunches has always been a topic among students. Our school charges $2.40 for a standard lunch, while reduced lunches are 40 cents. However, a standard lunch just includes an entree, a fruit/vegetable, and a milk, which means that things such as water bottles, chips, soup, and extra fruit can cost more. And it only adds up.
The debt ceiling for school lunches is $25, and privileges such as prom can be revoked if a student goes over that limit.
Kai-Lyn Boyd is an 11th grade health science major from Midland, who spoke about her experience with prices. “I will say that paying does play a certain factor—I sometimes see people go without food because of the payment. I mean, if you go past—what, $25?—you’re in debt. Everybody should eat.”
Lincoln Park’s Food Service Director, Phil Balestrieri, shared that the school does not control the prices of lunches. “For the past six years since I’ve been here, we haven’t had to raise the lunch prices. Now if lunch comes in at a loss, the state will make us raise the lunch prices,” he said.
On an average day, there are six main entrees served. However, many students who buy lunch don’t typically buy the entree. Take Kate Lynd, a freshman musical theatre major.
“It depends on what they’re serving, usually something else, but sometimes the entree,” said Lynd.
Some other students alternate between the entrees and a la carte options depending on the day.
Catessa Guadagnoli, a dance major, said, “I alternate every day.”
“Usually, I’ll get an entree. Sometimes I’ll get a hamburger or a salad, it depends on the day mostly,” agreed Mehki Turner, a senior musical theatre major from Beaver Falls.
The quality of the food at LPPACS seems to have changed since COVID-19.
“Subpar,” is all Xan Gruzca said about the quality of the food.
One of the items that has changed due to the pandemic stood out to some students: the prepackaged
Turner said, “I remember before COVID we got hamburgers that were wrapped in the foil that weren’t soggy. That’s kind of a big deal for me.”
Mr. Balestrieri explained that although options have dwindled since COVID-19, that’s about to change.
“During COVID we served a lot less. So we are kind of boosting that back up now and adding more options in, so eventually we’ll get back to where we were in 2016,” he said.
Additionally, Mr. Balestrieri is open to hearing student opinions about the new options. Within the last month, a student-led focus group has gotten underway, in which Mr. Balestrieri will be able to hear first-hand what Lincoln Park students think about their daily lunches. “We’re working to see what you guys like,” he said, “and make changes from there.”
“I really thought I was going to hear a lot of complaints but I really didn’t. I was very pleasantly surprised,” he added, as he reflected on the focus group’s first meeting.
Freshman Mia Clemons is a member of the focus group. “I felt like the discussions were amazing! Chef Phil was unbelievably kind, open-minded, and passionate about his job. Within the conversation I was able to see how much love he had for his job, and the students,” Mia observed after the meeting.
But, at the end of the day, school lunches need to meet the federal lunch requirements, so students will have to settle for lunches that they might not always enjoy wholeheartedly.
Mr. Balestrieri reminisced about the school lunches he had as a student. “When I was in high school, school lunches were great, they were flavorful,” he said. “It was like a home-cooked meal.”
This year, the Lincoln Park Food Service Department has tried to compensate for the lack of salt. “And now it’s like you can’t put any of that salt in there so we tried to use some dry herb seasoning without salt to kind of give it flavor,” Mr. Balestrieri said.
“The sodium guidelines go down next school year,” he added. “So as bland as your food is now, unfortunately, it’s gonna be blander next year.”