MRHS Students Share Opinions on the Comeback of Paid Lunch

During the 2021-2022 school year, lunches were given out for free to students returning from virtual learning; however, many students had strong opinions on the drop in quality compared to previous years. With the new school year, lunches are no longer free, but students still have varying opinions on how and if the budget is being used to improve lunch.
“The menu changed, so there’s a lot more variety of food. We even get sodas now. Last year, I was drinking chocolate milk. When I looked inside, there were a lot of dirty things in there. I felt scammed. Now they actually show consideration for students after getting paid,” sophomore Grace Choe said.
The increase in quality, variety, and organization in the cafeteria seen in current lunches may be due to the return of paid lunches.
“I mean for the prices [that the cafeteria has]…I think that some of their other stuff they made like the fried rice and chicken sandwich are things I genuinely would buy,” junior Kaia Green explained. “I don’t wake up early enough to barely catch the bus, let alone make my own lunch, so [good school lunches] are nice.”
For many students, making lunch in the morning is a time consuming task in an already tight schedule, so the paid school lunches are an effective alternative for this spared time and effort.
Despite money being essential for cafeteria funding, not every student is willing to let go of free lunches. The quality has improved, but certain students can’t say the same for the price.
With the school receiving more funding from paid lunches, students expected an increase in both quality and portion sizes; however, their expectations have not been met. According to senior Eli Lam, lunch prices have gone up since their 2019 freshman year, and the portions of what was given did not follow. Even with additional funding, the debate over whether there really was attention given to the problem of portion versus price was still alive.
Though prices did increase from last year’s lunches, Vice Principal Cherry describes that significant adjustments had to be made in order to prevent problems from last year from resurfacing. With students talking about school lunches last year, teachers and staff were bound to hear their complaints and have thoughts of their own on the issue. The biggest grievances about the school lunches last year were how few options there were and the amount of food the students received.
“Last year, it was just the lack of options, like food running out,” Ms. Cherry said. “But again, lunch was free for everybody last year, and people were coming back for two and three rounds…in my opinion, one piece of pizza doesn’t feed a high school student.”
Now that lunches must be paid for, new complaints from students are beginning to arise due to their preexisting expectations and vision for change of the quantity of the food provided. Although students believed the school would modify lunches after their voiced displeasure, the pricing of the lunches is not under the school’s control as it may have seemed.
“It’s a separate business, so it’s completely disconnected from school. We don’t get the money from the lunches, which is why we can’t sell anything in addition to the lunches. Any business you’re going to have to get money from somewhere; so yes, I do believe that there should be at least something paid for lunch,” Ms. Cherry described.
Though it may not be up to the school as to whether lunches are paid for, students have a voice in making changes to the county provided lunches. Although students themselves cannot change the school’s problems, there is an opportunity to share their concerns with the county.
“I know that we’re going to start doing some Listen-and-Learn sessions on a variety of topics…I know last year there were some opinions based on the lunch or the lack of options for lunch. But we can certainly add it to one of the Listen-and-Learn sessions,” Ms. Cherry described. “We do hold these Listen-and-Learn sessions, and students get involved because I know it’s come up at the county level when they’ve done the Listen-and-Learn night sessions. We have very few students for Marriotts Ridge High School that take advantage of those sessions, maybe one or two students each time from our school, sometimes none. So if we really want to get our opinions heard, we have to be more involved.”
Information on the Listen-and-Learn sessions can be found on the Howard County Association of Student Councils (HCASC) website and can be joined virtually on zoom via a link on their news page. With a significant change such as the comeback of paid lunch, students inevitably have different opinions on the topic. Though many agree that the improvement from last year’s lunches are worth the price, others argue that the portion sizes and high prices are still in need of adjustments. For a change to be seen in Howard County provided lunches, it is up to the students to take action and have their voices heard.