WHS Should Offer More Diverse Lunch Options

It is impossible to deny the extent to which COVID-19 has affected school systems as a whole. However, at Walpole High School, perhaps one of the largest changes can be seen through the school lunch program. Prior to the pandemic, students had a variety of options in addition to the main entree, including a salad bar, pizza station and several other grab-and-go options, including wraps, sandwiches and snacks. Although students did have to pay for their lunch each day, they had much more freedom to choose whatever they wanted to eat. 

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken much of this variety away. Although Walpole students have had the opportunity to receive free lunch and breakfast throughout the 2021-2022 school year, it has come at the expense of the freedom of choice which they formerly enjoyed. Now, students only have one option, the main daily entree.

While this may seem like a fair trade off — free meals in exchange for the freedom to choose — the lack of options leave many students without sufficient lunch on certain days. Although there are certain varieties made for those with allergies or dietary preferences, they typically do not compare to the standard main dish. 

“Whenever I can’t eat the main dish, I have a difficult time trying to find an alternative option,” said one vegetarian student. “Sometimes they run out, or sometimes they tell me I have to go somewhere else in the school to get it, so I kind of feel uncomfortable asking.”

Research from the Food Allergy and Research Education (FARE) Center shows that one in 13 children have a food allergy and according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), prevalence of food allergies amongst children has increased by over 50% in the last few years. These statistics do not even account for those who have dietary restrictions due to personal or religious beliefs, an amount which is also growing rapidly. There is no denying that this issue is becoming increasingly prevalent in society, and by failing to provide for this growing minority of students, Walpole remains one step behind.

“Most days I can’t eat the main meal, so I usually have to ask them if they have another choice for me,” one student with Celiac disease said. “Sometimes they have gluten-free pizza or pulled pork on a gluten-free roll, but one time the only option they had was a cheese stick and a granola bar.”

The cafeteria staff has undoubtedly done their best to supply nutritious, appetizing meals for all students, despite the challenges that the pandemic had brought. While providing free lunches has been a massive step in the right direction, the policy means nothing if students are not actually able to enjoy these meals. Many students do not have other opportunities for lunch throughout the day, so it is crucial that Walpole Schools provides sufficient options for those with all different backgrounds, beliefs and restrictions.