McKeesport students want meal variety, less fat for lunch
Some McKeesport Area High School students want more variety and healthier lunches served in the cafeteria.
“I wonder if the school has prepared a good meal?” sophomore Keshon Ball asked the school board and administrators at last week's meeting,
“Every day in our school, I hear these exact words from students,” Keshon said. “Frankly, we all are disgusted with most of the lunches served to us. Oftentimes, students actually skip eating lunch because of the long lines in the cafeteria or because they believe the food being served is rather repulsive.”
Sophomore Kyle Styche said processed foods served at the high school are causing health concerns.
“These processed foods have a lot of sugar, lots of fat, and frankly, there's a lot of obese kids in our school district,” Kyle said.
He pointed out that nutrition lessons taught in health courses aren't having a positive effect.
Nearly one in four U.S. teens are on the fast track to diabetes, according to research from the Centers for Disease Control.
Keshon said the high school is contributing to that by serving pizza, burgers and chicken patties regularly.
“Why can't there be more variety in what we eat?” Keshon said. “Why can't we have chicken breasts one day for lunch, or possibly even bring a local food stand in our school to serve food?”
The students gave a PowerPoint presentation that showed pictures of cafeteria food and comments from students, one of whom said the Allegheny County Jail serves better food.
District food service director Tammi Davis of Nutrition Inc., who did not attend the board meeting, said she was surprised to hear that their are problems with the food.
“It really did surprise me because I thought everything was really well up there,” Davis said. “But you'll have that. Students and everybody have their opinions.”
Davis said the district must follow strict federal guidelines for food choices and portion sizes because of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.
A typical meal includes at least three of five components: dairy, fruit, vegetable, protein and bread.
The cafeteria offers burgers, pizza and chicken patties daily because that's what most students like to eat, Davis said.
It serves five to six different salads at its grab-and-go section, as well as turkey and chicken wraps, vegetables and canned and fresh fruits.
“We want them to eat their lunch,” Davis said. “We don't want them to take it, throw it in the garbage and not eat all day. We want them to enjoy their lunch. That should be the best time of the day.”
Kyle said salads are rarely fresh and the school serves many leftovers.
Davis said food is prepared daily, and the cafeteria workers reheat foods only once if leftovers are served.
School directors Trisha Gadson and Christopher Halaszynski have volunteered to eat lunch with students in the cafeteria this week to experience what they are going through.
Halaszynski said the presentation put a “dark light” on the cafeteria staff.
“I want to be a little hesitant before we just slam the employees who work in these kitchens,” he said.
Board vice president Joe Lopretto said putting down the workers was not the message he received from the students.
“I don't think anything was meant toward the workers themselves,” he said. “It's the food being served, and if we talk about everything in the back room then the citizens out here know nothing.”
Davis said she hopes to have a meeting of the youth advisory council, student representatives and district officials to discuss the concerns.
Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1965, or firstname.lastname@example.org.