The Cafeteria: An Underappreciated Dining Option

It’s not uncommon to hear someone complaining about food options on campus. As beneficiaries of an open campus, the school’s students (and teachers) often find it more desirable to go off campus for lunch than to stay, and as a result, on campus food often gets an undeserved bad rap.

Over the past few years, on-campus food has gotten much more healthful and varied due to changes in management and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations. However, the cafeteria’s reputation on campus hasn’t entirely changed along with these improvements.

“There’s a perception problem,” LAHS parent and cafeteria advocate Susan Mirbach said. “[While working on a panel to better the cafeteria], we didn’t even talk healthy. That wasn’t an issue. It was trying to make sure that the food tasted good, and that people knew that it existed and that it was much better than the reputation that had been around for eight or 10 years.”

As USDA regulations on school food become stricter and stricter, the food options on campus have become substantially more healthful, giving students access to healthful food at a relatively low cost. New guidelines from the USDA include a zero transfat policy, a mandate to decrease sodium content of foods (to less than 500 mg a meal by 2022), and a stricter regulation on food groups such as whole grains and dairy.
“[We] watch for sodium content, fat content, we’re supposed to have zero transfat,” manager Christine Garcia said. “[We’re providing] what has nutritional value, what’s going to give people vitamins and nutrients. We’re just trying to get kids to eat healthier, to try some vegetables.”

In addition to offering more nutritious food, the variety of cafeteria has improved drastically over the past few years. New management such as food services manager Lary Hayden and Garcia have helped bring about a much more varied menu on campus. Garcia cited meals such as her Chinese chicken salad as an example of more interesting, nutritious meals she’s tried to add.

“Hopefully by trying some new menu items, bringing in some new products … hopefully we can bring a few more kids in here,” Garcia said.

Providing healthy options with low sodium content isn’t always popular among students, and with food from McDonalds and the taco truck close by, providing healthy food on campus food can often seem like an uphill battle.

“We have a lot of competition with the taco truck, and there are no guidelines there,” Garcia said. “I know it’s all deep fried, I can only imagine that the sodium content is through the roof. So hopefully by offering some new menu items, we can bring a few more kids in here.”

The cafeteria is providing students with healthful, cheap food amidst changing regulations, all while being an active on-campus force for nutritious eating. If you’ve never stepped foot in the cafeteria before, and are looking for a good meal, it’s definitely worth a visit.