Limited lunch options leave students hungry for more


Photo by Clara Young

Students crowd the WCHS cafeteria on the morning of September 29, 2022 to buy and eat breakfast.

By Clara Young, Assistant News Editor

Walk into the cafeteria and take in the sight: lines of restless students, underfilled trays of pre-packaged food and utensils littering the floor. This scene is an exact replica of last year, except now, the click-clack of students typing in their pins to pay for their lunches fills the air.  

“Lunches from last year and this year are basically the same,” WCHS sophomore Edward Zhao said. “I expected a bit better but for them to be the same to a certain degree.”

Students have realized that the school lunches from this year compared to last year are very similar. Although expectations for school lunches are not very high, due to the new prices students expected at least some sort of change.

“Going into this school year, I expected similar lunches to ones we got from middle school, like the slushies, cookies and such,” WCHS junior Melchi Jonah said. “I don’t agree with the fact we are paying for the same lunches that were given to us for free last year; there should be more enjoyable choices.”

In the past, Herbert Hoover Middle School (HHMS) and Cabin John Middle School (CJMS) students were given a wider variety of quality snack options and other side dishes. However, the diversity at the middle schools has also decreased this year. 

“No one really seems to enjoy school lunches anymore,” HHMS seventh grader Sachin Wedam said. “There’s nothing fresh, and the food is frozen and pre-made. It doesn’t seem like anything is nutritious. We don’t even have slushies anymore to make up for it and there’s rarely breadsticks. It seems like there’s less variety overall.” 

The issue with lack of options has extended itself to WCHS, and likely the rest of MCPS. The small variety found with the side dishes has now stretched to the entrees. Even though school lunches have claimed to be more nutritious in many ways with the changes, the county seems to not consider people with distinct food restrictions. 

“There’s a problem with diversity,” WCHS senior J.P. Newman said. “Yes there are options, but, for example, [the only food] that most people with a vegan diet can get is a salad or a veggie burger. Additionally, I’d be a SMOB [supporter if we were to get] a condiment bar, like I’d do anything just for hot sauce on most food items they provide.”

During the election for the 2022 to 2023 SMOB, candidate Arvin Kim promised better school lunches. After he won, this promise combined with the lunch costs returning likely raised students’ expectations.  

“In all honesty the lunch feels lacking not only in flavor but in portions,” Newman said. “I see tons of people having to buy more than one entree just to feel somewhat full.”

According to Eatright, the average teenage boy needs around 2,800 calories per day while a teenage girl needs around 2,200 calories a day. This means that per meal they should be consuming about 730 and 930 calories respectively. Unfortunately, according to the menus found on the MCPS website, entrees in schools range from 200 to 600 calories, significantly less than the needed amount. Now with less snacks and side dishes served in the cafeteria, one would expect the main dish sizes to be larger and more filling. Yet, this is far from the case. 

“I would like the SMOB to make the quality a bit better since [school lunches] cost money now,” Zhao said. “I’m all for improving quality.”

Other students who buy school lunch daily agree that the quality should be improved, at least to some degree. But due to new prices and SMOB plans, students are being less lenient. Although it is understood that lunches were free due to COVID-19, students still feel that they should be getting better overall lunches if they are to pay. 

“I know for a fact that this month they’ve run out of apples because of an order mistake, at least the lunch last year was free so more things would be forgivable,” Newman said. “I understand that we go to a public school. I’m not expecting a fully plated 5 course meal served table side, but I feel like it’s fair to say that I’d want an apple with my lunch. It’s been a month and I haven’t seen any improvements or changes to the lunch. Where is this money going?”