Vegetarian options available for lunch


Xalia Raabel

Food Service Worker Elizabeth Nordstrum scooping Mac and Cheese for a vegetarian student on Oct. 27. This is one of the options that most vegetarian students could eat.

By Xalia Raabel

Those who are vegan, vegetarian, or practice a similar diet can find school lunches suitable for their dietary needs if they explore the menu items or ask for them in the school cafeteria.

At lunch there are five different stations for meals. The options are ‘homemade,’ anything on a bun, sandwich or sub, pizza, and nachos or tacos. Each station has a different meal every day that fits the station’s description. There is also an island in the middle of the cafeteria with a salad bar.

Responding to a survey on lunch options that was sent out on Oct. 19, where 257 students responded, 37% abstain from some form of edible animal products while 15% found the options the school provides to be lacking.

“On some days the only option is a slice of cheese pizza, and while it isn’t the worst, I would like to have a choice sometimes,” vegetarian sophomore Truman Moore said. 

Moore was referring to the main meal options that fit into what he likes to eat. At just the pizza station, even when the pizza has meat, there are always two other options like bread sticks or cheesy bread. There are also four different options of fresh vegetables at the second half of the salad bar and three different options for fresh fruit in front of the checkout area.

Elizabeth Nordstrum, who’s worked with the district’s food service for 25 years, clarified that as long as a student asks for something, they can get it.

“Typically every day there is meat [in the sandwich in the anything on a bun section], so they could ask for a bun with cheese,” Nordstrum said. “So they could have a bun and veggies on it. You know, if they ask, they’ll get it.”

While asking to go without meat is an option, 57% of respondents of the Oct. 19 survey admitted they are hesitant to say anything because they feel intimidated.

“I think adding meat products should be an option after you’ve gotten your food, like what they do with grilled cheese and tomato soup,” Moore said.

With the grilled cheese meal, students pick certain parts of the meal by grabbing for themselves instead of everything being on the tray before they arrive. Moore believes that having all meals like this could make students more comfortable and food more accessible to those with restrictions.

Jamie Wilson, Director of Food Service, clarified that the system involves premade sandwiches because they have to follow strict guidelines when it comes to sodium, calories and fat. Wilson introduced a black bean burger years ago to have a vegan option, but the sodium was too high. That issue is a common occurrence with vegan products, according to Wilson.

“We can try it again, we are always open to that,” Wilson said.

According to Wilson, another issue is that vegetarian and vegan products can be too expensive for the school to buy. Soy milk is usually offered as a milk alternative, although students have to pay extra for it. The district hasn’t been able to purchase it this year due to the strain the COVID-19 pandemic has on resources and finances, according to Wilson.

Wilson also listens to the students. Dishes in the past have been taken off the menu if students aren’t eating them. 

“If kids don’t like it, we get rid of it,” Wilson said.

When gluten free and vegan pasta was requested by many for the 2021 prom, Wilson got it for the school. However, he said, only six students inquired about it and only three ate some. Wilson said he needs to see more numbers if something is going to continue to be served, as the cost has to be worth it for the district to buy it.

Wilson wants feedback from the students and accepts it daily. He said the food service workers will relay it to him so changes can be implemented.

Wilson states that preferences in a large school like this one are hard to accommodate, but they are willing to try anything if enough students want it.

“I would do anything to get our kids to eat,” Wilson said.