Students eat lunch in the Oakland High School cafeteria. To get lunch, students in one line enter their ID numbers – used by staff to track free and reduced-price meals – and then receive tickets to exchange for meals in other lines. One student said he typically waits 20 to 25 minutes for food. (Noah Berger/Center for Investigative Reporting)
By Joanna Lin, The Center for Investigative Reporting
The green beans are portioned and displayed in orderly rows. The lasagnas are steaming up their plastic covers. The workers stand ready, their hair netted and aprons tied. The bell rings, and a stream of nearly 1,000 students floods in to Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School’s cafeteria, barely slowing as they load cardboard trays with apple juice, chicken wings and sliced cucumbers.
Hungry students are more prone to headaches, stomachaches and behavior problems and less able to concentrate in class, educators say.
Because lunch is free for all students at Bravo, in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, no one pauses to pay. Still, during the lunch rush this day in May, food service worker Rodelinda Gomez stops a few.
“Hey! Hey!” Gomez hollers to students with no greens on their trays. “Come on and get your vegetables. You have to get them!”
For schools to receive federal reimbursement for lunches, they must serve — not just offer — each student at least a half-cup of fruit or vegetables. Lunches also must include servings of at least two other foods, such as a protein and a grain.
The requirement, adopted in the last school year, is part of an effort to serve students healthier foods. And eating those foods takes time – more time than many students have.
“A student can eat a cup of applesauce in no time – you can practically drink that. But chewing through an apple takes a lot longer,” said Diane Pratt-Heavner, spokeswoman for the School Nutrition Association, a national advocacy organization. “If we want our students to eat more salads, fruits and vegetables, we need to give them more time to consume them.” Continue reading