The problem with our lunchroom

Student health jeopardized not by choice of what to eat, but whether to at all

April 28, 2016

Healthy eating behavior is one of the most important habits that people must form at a young age. The President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition states, “Dietary habits established in childhood often carry into adulthood, so teaching children how to eat healthy at a young age will help them stay healthy throughout their life.” Although it’s clear that eating healthy–which, at its simplest definition, is eating three meals a day–is tremendously important, it’s puzzling why we do not foster this behavior at our school.

The lunchroom is simply too small. It is almost always cramped during the time that lunch is served with long lines and few chairs left open. The frenzy ensues just moments after the previous block finishes, and the high-stress environment envelopes the small area with little time to get food without pushing your way through the maze of students.

For students who are uncomfortable with sitting just a few inches away from someone else or sharing a chair with a friend, there are little options for eating lunch. Assistant Upper School Director Paul Menge states that, “most of the time, people are expected to eat lunch within the dining room and small dining room” due to many reasons, which includes cleanliness. This means that students are forced to stay within the walls of the lunchroom if they want to eat lunch.

Many teachers say that the reason why students are so cramped during lunch is that they don’t wait for the lunch craze to finish, and if they waited 10-15 minutes it would be less busy. However, this is simply not true. Often I find myself waiting so that I don’t have to force my way through the sea of high schoolers, but when I get to the lunchroom, most of the food is gone.

There really isn’t a good way out of this situation without breaking the rules and bringing the food elsewhere in the building. This causes many students to avoiding the lunchroom, and avoiding eating lunch altogether.

The habit of not eating lunch is detrimental to our health as we should be forming healthy eating behavior at our age. Students who have anxiety around eating in front of people have little options to comfortably eat, which I believe actively goes against our school’s desire to be welcoming to everyone as well as disregarding the safety of students who are avoiding lunch. Menge reiterates this discrepancy, saying, “We really have to consider some changes to make the space more welcoming.”

After spring break the Juniors were allowed to go off campus for lunch, which I was overjoyed about. I hadn’t visited the lunchroom in a long time because panic overtook me when I entered the space. The first day I ate a full lunch I had so much energy and I felt much more attentive in my afternoon classes. Your body can get used to struggling through a day with little nutrients (I usually pack a granola bar for lunch) but there really isn’t anything that replaces a full meal.

The luxury of off campus, however, is nowhere near accessible for everyone. Even if you are an upperclassman and your grade has received off campus privileges, you might not have a car to go somewhere or you may not want to spend the extra money on a lunch.

This gets us to another issue: the money. Every student pays for lunch as a part of their tuition, but some of us don’t even go to lunch because we feel uncomfortable with the lunchroom environment. Why, then, are we paying for food that we aren’t eating? This seems incredibly unfair.

Ken Nivala, Director of Buildings and Grounds, states that they are “planning to build a new dining room. . . the existing dining room and kitchen will be decommissioned and the vacated space used for future programming.” Although they are also in need of some more space at the Middle School, it’s strange that the Upper School dining room is not getting the same attention.

For now, there aren’t any concrete plans to renovate or expand the Upper School lunchroom, however Menge mentions that “there’s no question that we need to look at that space and think about how we can reconfigure it so it can feel less congested.”

It’s high time for the administrators to take initiative regarding the problem here, as every student should have access to a safe space for them to eat in order to form healthy habits for the rest of their lives.

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