What Is The Deal With Oakdale School Lunches?


Riley Frutiger

A plate from the Oakdale High Cafeteria containing a chicken sandwich, tater tots, and chocolate milk

Riley Frutiger, Writer

School lunches are known for being notoriously bad. They have a reputation for being anything but edible, either being burnt, freezing, or just tasting like cardboard. For decades the idea of someone having to eat school lunch felt like a punchline of a tired joke that was never funny. 


In reality, school lunches are not the rat poison level torture that it seems to be portrayed as, but that absolutely doesn’t mean they’re by any definition good. Here at Oakdale, it seems to depend on the day.


Some days, there are many options, ranging from mozzarella sticks with proper stretchy cheese to chicken sandwiches, having good options for everyone. Other days, there are maybe three options, and the ones available are somehow either burnt or stale.


Freshman Marina Yfantis puts it perfectly: “It’s a very hit or miss situation”.


This issue is not the school’s fault. The US Department of Agriculture, or USDA, provides affordable and healthy food to schools all over the country. With the pandemic, these meals have been provided to students for free, which includes an entree and a fruit or vegetable to make sure students have healthy food options.


However, at least at Oakdale, french fries count as a vegetable. Students that opt out of the fries are forced to pick up a packet of craisins or apple slices, both of which somehow always end up in the garbage by the end of the period, which is only 30 minutes.


Despite the fact that the school lunch is questionable more days than not, the line of hungry students pours out the lunch line doors and barely moves as the period continues. The Oakdale administration attempted to do something about this problem by adding a 4th lunch shift, but that hasn’t seemed to help much.


“The line to get food is extremely long every single day, and it doesn’t seem to get shorter until lunch is almost over. I often find myself having about 10 minutes or less to actually eat my food at the end of lunch because of the length of the lines,” said Junior Kate Bass.


Between the cafeteria being understaffed and the large increase in the student population Oakdale has seen in recent years, lunch at Oakdale High School has become a disaster area. 


Now, it must be made clear that the current problems with lunches have nothing to do with the staff. The staff in the kitchen here at Oakdale are nothing but pleasant during lunch. Even while severely understaffed, they do their best to make something out of the bad situation. It’s a job that goes unthanked, but students would not be able to be provided with school lunches if it weren’t for them.


They take the time to get to know kids, even remember student’s regular choices and converse with them while they stand in the slow line. Every kid is taken care of because of them. And not everything served in the cafeteria is inedible, with students admitting they enjoy staples such as cheeseburgers and chicken poppers. It’s just unfortunate that these positives are being overshadowed by a multitude of problems.


But even with the amount of issues students have with the current school lunch food, they all seem to have relatively simple solutions. One of the biggest gripes students have is with the lack of options, with Junior Jason Blakesly stating, “I wish there was more variety in what we could get”.


Other issues include the quality of the food, which could be solved with the USDA being more conscious of the food they’re putting in schools and supplying schools with food students want, not just the cheapest option.


To their credit, as of January 3rd, 2022, the Maryland State Department of Education put out a survey for students to see what they would like to see in their school cafeteria. Each proposed item was followed by a rating prompt for students to select whether they liked or disliked a food, and if they’ve never heard of or tried them. Presented options ranged from vegetables like raw broccoli to entrees like grilled fish.


This survey was issued to all elementary, middle, and high school students in every county in the state, and while it sounds like a promising change, it was unclear when or if these changes would be made.


There simply needs to be more consideration taken in the best interests of both students and kitchen staff. Regardless of the proposed changes, the current school lunch situation at Oakdale High School is absolutely unacceptable, and there needs to be some kind of change made, both on the school and the USDA level.