Cafeteria Food: Is it Worth the Cost?

Yidi Wu

Cafeteria Food: Is it worth the cost?

We complain about cafeteria food. We complain because we’re tired, we complain because we gain weight, we complain because we’re really into this “organic” stuff they’re selling nowadays, and we complain because we like complaining. Are our complaints rooted in a just cause?

Harriton sells breakfast and lunch to its students. Thus far, overcharging does not seem to present an issue, as opposed to taste or nutrition. When asked, students do not often know the prices of the lunches, especially if they charge their school accounts.

According to the High School menu for Lower Merion School District, “Lunch includes the Special of the Day, or Hot Buffet Selection (a slice of pizza, hot dog, veggie burger, hamburger/cheeseburger, or check filet on a WW Kaiser Roll), or premade salad (up to 12 oz. each additional ounce is $.15 extra) or Deli Corner plus a choice of three (3) of the following items: fruit/fruit juice, salad, potato, veggie, &/or bread/grain together with a choice of milk (2%, 1%, skim, or lo-fat chocolate or strawberry).

Upon closer examination, the prices themselves appear to be quite reasonable. The prices for these foods would be no lower (and most likely higher) at any other location. Also take into consideration that the food is guaranteed to be safe, hot if you so choose, and convenient in that you don’t have to pack a lunch.

What about the quality and taste of the food? LMSD appears to promise at least hard work towards making our cafeteria healthier, with this on the district website:

LMSD Nutritional Services has taken a leadership role in the effort to promote healthy choices in the school cafeteria. The District was among the first in Pennsylvania to eliminate the use of cooking oils that contain trans-fats and in 2006 became the first District in the state to eliminate all items with trans-fats from the menu. The District’s School Health Advisory Council (SHAC), composed of parents, dieticians, health care professionals, students, faculty and other community members, has worked together to assist the district in the development of wellness and nutrition policies that promote healthful eating through nutrition education and a school environment that is supportive of healthful eating. The District employs a full-time dietician.

An actual nutritional breakdown of the foods provided in the high schools is not provided (though a nutritional chart of elementary schools’ is), and it is not currently possible to press the school for the exact nutrition of the food we receive.

However, Harriton students do approximate the nutritional value of their food. Most are resigned to what they think is food that has been “refrigerated for days and then microwaved,” and feel that under the circumstances, it’s acceptable. It’s not as healthy as it could be, but considering that the prices are fairly low and the cafeteria is not a gourmet restaurant. Under these conditions, nutrition is good enough.

Taste is handled on the same plane. One student described the cafeteria as having “a wide variety of foods, ranging from inedible to mediocre.” Would he choose to eat here if he had a choice of any restaurant in the world? Likely not. Is he fine with eating here if it means he doesn’t have to take the trouble to bring a lunch? Most probably, especially since he still does. Another student brings up the fact that the food is an improvement over middle school, with the options of sushi, stir-fry, and grilled flatbread sandwiches. “The pizza is gross,” she says, “but everything is okay, considering.”

Harriton’s food is thus rated “okay, I guess,” but since the prices are good, and the taste is acceptable, no one’s overturning the tables in rage and petitioning for better food. We plop down the tray and eat the things that are on it, and we even enjoy it sometimes.