About 1 in 4 students in Highline and Seattle skip lunch during school each day, according to a survey released earlier this year. And even if they do eat their school’s lunch, only 1 in 6 students said the meal makes them feel full.
“Having the same rotation of food all the time doesn’t make me excited to eat lunch,” one student told the local nonprofit Food Empowerment Education and Sustainability Team, or FEEST, which conducted the survey and got nearly 700 responses at four Seattle and Highline schools.
“When food is good, it puts you in a happier state of mind,” another student said.
With school back in session, Education Lab and The Seattle Times want to learn more about the quality, affordability and appeal of the food being served at schools in Washington state. That’s why we’re asking students to send in their photos, videos and reviews of your school’s breakfast or lunch.
The easiest way to share those images? Send them to us directly on Instagram (@seattletimes) and Twitter (@educationlab), or tag your posts and stories with #WAschoolfood. Email also works: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We also want to know about your favorite items on the cafeteria menu this year. What’s the most dubious-looking food you’ve seen come out of the school kitchen? When’s the last time you even ate the school lunch, or do you prefer to grab food off campus?
Submit your answers in the survey below:
Our attention recently turned to lunch at school after a state audit found that students at nearly every one of the 31 schools visited did not get 20 minutes to sit and eat lunch — the recommended minimum. And over the past week, cafeteria workers at Seattle Public Schools have complained about their struggles to scrape together healthy and complete meals for students.
Some have resorted to spending their own money to make up for missing school supplies, or offering cold cereal as a lunch option.
“Before the first day of school, we were waiting on our bread delivery, and it never came,” said cafeteria worker Jeremy Davis.
He asked his supervisor about the missing bread and was told a problem with the order would push the delivery to the next week.
“So a few of us went out and bought it ourselves,” Davis said. “I spent around $30 for four days (worth of) hamburger buns. Policy-wise, we’re not supposed to purchase any food ourselves.”
Like him, employees in the central kitchens and on individual campuses have grown frustrated with what they described as an unprecedented shortage of key ingredients and ongoing problems with food orders. Their frustration reached a tipping point earlier this month, when members of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 609 — which represents kitchen managers, lunchroom assistants and central kitchen staff — voted to pass a motion of no confidence in Aaron Smith, who took over as food services director late last year.
The district would not make Smith available for an interview, but public-radio station KNKX first reported on the union’s vote of no confidence last week.
“Tim Robinson, a spokesman for Seattle Public Schools, said the district is working hard to get food service on track after some computer glitches delayed ordering, a problem that he said has now been resolved,” KNKX reported. “Additionally, a department reorganization left some positions unfilled and that’s contributed to the issues.”
The issue also caught the attention of student journalists at Garfield High, who on Tuesday posted a video interview with lunchroom manager Rachel Kayne. She similarly described staff having to purchase bread out of their own pockets, despite potential disciplinary action.
“I don’t know what it is about upper management, but it’s like they just don’t care about anything,” Kayne told Melanin Monthly, a student publication at Garfield that features students of color.
“I don’t know who’s actually to be blame, but I blame it all on this new director,” Kayne added of Smith. “If he had his ducks in a row, this would not have happened. We spent the first three days with no bread.”
In a statement, the district said the number of meals served so far this school year has been consistent with numbers from previous school years.
It also asked nutrition services staff to notify the central office if they encounter any issues with shortages of food for breakfast or lunch.
“Central office is not aware of any complaints from parents or students regarding meals at schools,” the district said. “We realize that specific schools may get comments or complaints, and we always stand ready to help resolve any necessary issues.”