The current M-A lunch system, implemented under California’s Universal Meals Program, relieves the kitchen staff from last year’s overload. However, some students are frustrated with the reduction of free lunches and the long lines the new system has created.
CA Education Code 49501.5 mandates that all public schools provide one free lunch and breakfast to all students from 2022 to 2023. Last year, M-A offered free breakfast and lunch to all students, but due to the prolific abuse of the policy, M-A now requires students to enter their IDs to keep track of free meals.
Food Services Lead Maria Vilchez reported that the kitchen staff made up to 1500 lunches per day last year, compared with 900 this year. Vilchez explained, “Last year was really, really bad for us. We could never stop cooking!”
However, students are not pleased with the new system. Junior Alexis Carranza said, “I wish there was a way you could get more lunches. Some people are really hungry.” A third of interviewed students (each a usual free lunch recipient) responded that one lunch was not enough. Junior Victoria Van Cleave said, “A tiny burger? No. Not at all.”
Despite some students desire for additional serving, the lunch staff reports throwing away around 23% of all prepared meals. As of August 31st, Vilchez said, “The Lunch Staff serves around 700 of the 900 prepared lunches and the rest go to the garbage.”
In addition to limited supply, students expressed dislike for a perceived increase in line length. Senior Luke Hanna said, “The lines are drastically too long by the time I get there. I’m hungry. Then I see the line, and I’m not hungry anymore.”
Long lines also impede students’ ability to use their lunch periods productively. Junior Aaryan Patel said, “Waiting for lunch takes 10 to 15 minutes out of my lunch, which prevents me from getting homework done.” Van Cleave explained, “I wanted to participate in a program to mentor kids but missed the sign-up because I spent all of lunch waiting in line.”
As the lunch period progresses, the number of lunch options also declines. Carranza said, “At the end of lunch, there’s none of the good foods, just really bad sandwiches.”
Despite the added security, students feel they could easily work around the restrictions. 11 out of 12 interviewed students do not intend to pay for a second lunch even if they are still hungry, but eight believe they could take more by using another person’s ID number. Hanna said, “It’s so easy! You could essentially put in any six-digit number that starts with an eight!”
Sophomore Nick Brown confirmed Hanna’s theory. “I don’t get a second lunch, but I know my friends do just by using someone else’s student ID.”
Although students are somewhat displeased with the new system, the data suggests the ID scanning system is doing its job. Last year, some students took excessive servings, but some of the same students say they can’t anymore. Patel said, “I took five portions per day, but the security’s too tight nowadays.”
While some have managed to game the system, the ID requirement seems to have decreased the amount of students taking an excessive number of free lunches. Around 83% of interviewed students have not taken seconds this year, despite close to 90% of interviewed sophomores, juniors, and seniors attesting to taking seconds last year.