CAMPUS: Students with dietary restrictions often struggle to find cafeteria food

Since the number of students eating school-provided lunches has substantially increased during the 2021-2022 school year, SCHS cafeteria staff have become more diligent in their food selection process and often determine which meals to serve based on popularity and nutritional value. While many feel a variety of healthy food is offered, some students are unable to eat a number of items offered.

Freshman Anaya Sheraaz is Muslim, meaning she can only eat halal meat, which is any animal that has been blessed before being slaughtered. Outside of school, Sheraaz eats at halal, seafood or vegetarian restaurants. While she has multiple restaurant choices, Sheraaz does not have flexible options at SCHS, so she chooses the cheese pizza for lunch every day.

Cafeteria Supervisor Alena Maracak believes that the cafeteria staff try to provide options for people with different dietary restrictions.

“Some schools have more vegetarian students, so their menu might reflect that. All the food stations here offer a vegetarian item every day,” Maracak said. “Let’s say we find more (vegetarians), we will have to make more of the vegetarian item.”

Sophomore Redrix Natanauan has noticed that students are often presented with a choice of meat, but the sole alternative for those who cannot eat meat is beans.

“It’s either chicken or beans, and there isn’t any in-between option. It’s a very one or another thing,” Natanauan said. “The only exception is maybe the salads, but then again, those are rare, and they are probably already gone by the time you get to the front of the line.”

On the other hand, Maracak believes that there are enough food items for everyone.

“There’s more than one vegetarian item, so I think they (vegetarians) will be able to find something,” Maracak said.

Despite this, Sheraaz once experienced a lunch period in which vegetarian options were unavailable.

“One time I went to the pizza line, and they ran out of all the cheese pizza. It was all pepperoni pizza,” Sheraaz said. “Then, I was going to go to the cafeteria, but the cafeteria didn’t have that many options either. It was mainly beef. Then, I went to the snack bar, and the snack bar only had chicken sandwiches.”

According to Maracak, part of the purpose of the cafeteria staff is to encourage more students to come to the cafeteria.

“They want the kids to like the food and come to the cafeteria to eat,” Maracak said. “We want more students to come and eat.”

Sheraaz believes that in order to achieve this purpose, the cafeteria should better acknowledge and provide for different dietary restrictions.

“There are a lot of Muslims I’ve noticed, and I definitely think that if they were to add more halal options, they would get more students to eat more cafeteria food,” Sheraaz said.

Natanauan agrees that changes should be made to the cafeteria menu so students do not feel limited in their meal options.

“It’s consistent, but that consistency also means that you are kind of going to be stuck going to the snack bar,” Natanauan said.

Maracak has also recognized the cafeteria’s need for food diversity and explained that a wider range of available options is currently not a feasible goal for the school district.

“I would think it is more practical for us to have it the way it is now,” Maracak said. “We want variety, but it is more difficult to get it.”