New look for lunch | SierraSun.com

New look for lunch

Christine Stanley
Sierra Sun

Photo by Ari Steffen/Sierra SunTahoe Truckee High School's new 7,000-square-foot cafeteria offers healthy choices, like this salad bar.

Long gone are the hair nets and creamed spinach found in yesteryear’s school cafeteria. Instead, students at today’s Tahoe Truckee High School are dining on a variety of tasty cuisines in a brand new building, complete with cafe seating and plasma televisions.

“We’ve been really pleased with the (new) food,” said Maggie Shane, a volunteer mentor who also heads the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District’s inspection committee. “We spent a lot of time with food services to get food that the kids will like.”

The 7,000-square-foot cafeteria, which opened in November, is an improvement over the previous building, which could only seat about 150 students.

“The old cafeteria was pretty dismal,” said student counselor Paul Christensen. “It wasn’t a dungeon, but believe me, not many kids went in there.”

Now 300 lunch-goers can be accommodated in a food-court style cafe were students can eat at bistro-style tables and bench seating.

“We could never build a big enough building to feed 800 kids in 40 minutes,” Shane said. “But we wanted to keep as many kids on campus as we possibly could.”

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Try as they might, come 12:27 p.m. students still flee the confines of campus in droves, clogging the west end of Donner Pass Road and filling the tables of local food merchants.

“I think it’s less about the food and more that people just want to get out,” said sophomore Kimia Habibi.

But for students who choose to dine in, the new cafeteria offers a variety of entree options that were previously unavailable, such as sushi boxes, an Asian noodle bar, and build-your-own hamburgers. The a la carte offerings, which are also varied, include such fare as chimichangas and garlic fries. No sodas are available in the cafeteria, though a single cola machine does lurk in a distant hallway.

“Mostly, we’re just trying to serve what kids are asking for,” said Cindee Picanso, cafe supervisor at Tahoe Truckee High School. “Yesterday they asked for wraps, so today we are serving them. We’re trying new things, and seeing how it goes. We’re a work in progress.”

Before the new cafeteria opened, Picanso went out into the community and surveyed local restaurants to see what their young customers were buying, and soon a school-wide survey will be distributed to gain even more feedback.

The addition of alternative lunch selections is an improvement over what was available in the old cafeteria, which consisted of dull and minimal options, said students and staff.

“It’s food you can tell they actually put time into,” said sophomore Patrick Malone. “But they still offer mystery meat.”

That so-called mystery meat is that of the National School Lunch Act, the federally subsidized meal program operating in public schools.

“It’s sort of mediocre, there’s not a lot to it,” Christensen said.

In order to receive food funding from the government, which is essential for students who participate in low-income meal programs, school districts must comply with a host of nutritional requirements.

According to the USDA, the National School Lunch Act mandates that school meals “safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s children.” Lunches must provide, on average over each school week, at least one-third of the daily Recommended Dietary Allowances for protein, iron, calcium, and vitamins A and C, though the choice of what specific foods are served can be decided by individual schools.

The menu is a combination of pizza, chicken in one form or another, Mexican and the “chef’s choice.”

At Tahoe Truckee High School the student lunch costs $2.50, or 40 cents for low-income students who qualify. It includes a large salad, or a hot entree item, with two a la carte items.

Menu options that are not federally subsidized, such as the noodle bar, cost students between $3.50 and $4.75 and are not required to meet the same nutritional standards as the federal fare.

It’s not glamorous, but it is filling.

“For the money, [the National School Lunch] is definitely worth it,” said senior Mike Knapik.