When the bell signals the end of fifth period, the public spaces of PHS fill with hundreds of students settling down to eat their lunches. Every space from the hallways to the stairwell windows to the benches by the flagpoles is packed, while only a relatively small percentage of the student body makes its way to the cafeteria to buy a school lunch.
But with the introduction of a new dining services company and other potential changes in the future, the administration hopes to increase the number of students making use of this resource.
At the end of last school year, PHS switched from its previous supplier, Chartwells, to a new food management company named Nutri-Serve, a smaller business that prides itself on focusing more on nutrition than its competitors do. Because Nutri-Serve operates only 203 schools, compared to the approximately 4,000 schools Chartwells services, it is also able to provide more personalized customer service.
The most visible change in the lunch program is the wider variety of healthful and quick lunch items available, including an assortment of pre-made salads, sandwiches, and platters. “[Students are] looking for healthier food choices that are easy and accessible … This company has been able to offer some things that we haven’t been able to offer before,” said principal Gary Snyder.
Since its arrival, Nutri-Serve has been working to retrain and teach the lunch staff more about food preparation and the culinary arts. Food services director Joel Rosa said, “We have a corporate chef that’s been coming into the school … and actually [teaching the staff] how to hold a knife so they’re not cutting themselves, how to properly maintain the food fresh, things like that.”
For those students who do not eat lunch near the cafeteria, the administration plans to set up kiosks in places like the PAC and the area outside of the school store to provide school lunches to a larger percentage of the student body. Meals like salads and sandwiches would be prepared in the kitchen and then transported to the kiosks. The administration hopes that, with the new program, use of the cafeteria will increase along with the number of students buying a school lunch. “[Nutri-Serve] is trying to make [food] more easily accessible for kids who maybe eat lunch by the PAC … so everyone doesn’t have to make their way to the cafeteria,” Snyder said.
However, Nutri-Serve has decided to focus its efforts on several of the issues existing with the current cafeteria. “The training process is a lot more important right now, to get the staff to do exactly what Nutri-Serve requires them to do … There are a lot of issues, and we’re trying to put out a lot of fires,” said Rosa. “As far as when the concession stands and the new things are going to happen, probably closer to the end of this year.”
Besides during the relatively short break period, when many students are too busy with club meetings or other obligations to eat, the administration hopes to offer food items after school. “Maybe students are finishing up their classes for the day, but then they have band practice, soccer practice, speech and debate,” said Snyder. “Maybe they’ll be able to make use of some of the food options available.”
“The implementation of this idea will depend on student demand and availability of staff. “[Serving food after school is] something that we’re willing to do if it’s profitable,” said Rosa. “That also has to do with the budget costs. After hours, we’d have to find manpower to do that.”
Many students agreed that the sale of food in kiosks and after school would be beneficial. Louis Bishop ’18, who regularly eats lunch next to the PAC, said, “[Having kiosks] would open up more opportunities for more students.”
Having more locations for distributing food would also reduce the time spent waiting in line at the cafeteria. “The lines here are unbelievably long, so anything [the school] could do to make the lines shorter would be helpful,” said Alex Chen ’17.
Chen said that serving food after school would also be helpful to many students who have full schedules. “I myself have a bunch of activities after school, so sometimes I get a little hungry and don’t have time to go home and get something to eat, so the cafeteria would be a very convenient place for me to grab something,” he said.
Another change that has come with switching to Nutri-Serve is more food options, which will hopefully allow students to eat healthier lunches on a daily basis. “We know all the scientific benefits of having nutritious lunches and having that available for all students,” said physical education teacher Carlos Salazar.
Princeton’s aim to provide more nutritious meals to its students was prompted by new guidelines released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2012 regarding the nutritional value of children’s lunches, calling for more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables and less sodium and fat. Snyder said, “One of the topics the district is trying to focus on is wellness, and a piece of wellness, of course, is nutrition.”
Nutri-Serve utilizes several different strategies in order to improve the nutritional value of student lunches. “The quality is a lot fresher, coming from U.S. Foods, compared to Chartwells. We’re also implementing … the [food from school] gardens,” said Rosa. “We do have a registered dietitian that’s on board, and she’s the one who helps up prepare the menus, so … you have a well-balanced meal every single day of the month.”
Mabbel Lopez ’17 agreed with the need for healthier lunches sold by the cafeteria. “We shouldn’t be eating junk food every single day,” said Lopez, who buys lunch every day. “It’s really bad for our bodies, and we need something healthy.”
Beginning this year, some students have recognized the improvement in quality of food from the cafeteria. Brianna Romaine ’16 said, “I’ve noticed a difference, actually, in the fries, and I think it’s improved positively.”
However, not all students are impressed with the change in quality of the meals so far. “[The quality is] understandable for school lunches, but it’s not that great,” said Erick Crawford ’15.
While Nutri-Serve offers higher-quality meals, it works hard to keep prices relatively low. Rosa said, “The price change was a minor change, I believe ten cents on small items … Part of our agreement with Princeton was that we would try to keep certain things, like prices, the same as last year.”
While the administration is aiming to improve the quality of school lunches, some students still feel that the cost of the food is excessive. Crawford said, “I think that it’s a lot more expensive than it should be, in comparison to the quality … I don’t think that you should have to pay more to eat healthy.”
On the other hand, some believe that an increase in nutritional value is worth a slight change in the cost. Salazar said, “If the product is better and is going to be more nutritious, then I would be willing to pay extra for the better product.”