Princeton public schools work to bring students back to the lunch line

Items like black bean cookies and yogurt parfaits will be added to the lunch menus at Princeton Public schools this fall.

Items like black bean cookies and yogurt parfaits will be added to the lunch menus at Princeton Public schools this fall.

By Eric Macias
Chicago, Ill.

This year, Princeton Public Schools will implement a new, upgraded lunch program due to low participation in the current school lunch program.

Rather than eat the food offered by the Princeton Public School system, students from all grade levels opt out. Due to short lunch periods, limited and often unhealthy food options and a lack of education on the importance of eating well, students have been avoiding the cafeteria lunches, leaving some faculty members worried about student health.

“Only nine percent of all students at Princeton High School participate in the lunch program, and most of those students receive free lunch,” said Stephen Cochrane, 53, during an interview in the recently renovated library of Princeton Middle School. Cochrane is the superintendent of Princeton Public Schools and plans to improve the lunch system this year by making lunch more interesting for students. Currently, only between nine and 45 percent of students at Princeton Public schools participates.

There are several reasons that high school students aren’t eating school lunches. Many have limited time for lunch between classes, and the cafeteria is located in the basement, far from most of the classrooms. This helps to explain the extremely low participation rate. “There are 23 AP classes offered and very little time to waste during the school day,” Cochrane said. He has taken these issues into consideration as he finalizes the lunch plan for the approaching school year.

In order to tackle this dilemma, Cochrane and his colleagues have constructed a detailed plan for improving the relationship students have with food. Healthy and more appealing food options, such as black bean cookies and yogurt parfaits, will be added to the menu in order to increase student participation in the school lunch program.

Cochrane also says that there will be specific “grab-and-go” kiosks available in various locations throughout the school. These kiosks will offer food that can be eaten on the go such as chicken salad sliders and other healthier food options that vending machines do not offer. All of these healthy options are being implemented to replace slushy beverages and chips. According to the New Jersey Department of Health, 24.6 percent of people in the state suffer from obesity, and the goal of the change in the lunch system is to reduce this number by aiming at a younger population.

The public school system also expects to make many other long-term changes. Students currently take health classes every year, but Cochrane insists that these classes will be structured better to provide more information about nutrition. Students will receive lessons about having a healthy diet outside of school, and will receive free recipes that incorporate healthy and delicious food that families can make at home.

“Food is something that I am passionate about, and it is not just about chicken nuggets on Wednesday or pizza on Friday,” Cochrane said. “It is about the relationships that form over food.” He hopes to pass this passion on to his young pupils.

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