Rio Americano High School

The Mirada

Rio Americano High School

The Mirada

Rio Americano High School

The Mirada

Inside the Cafeteria: How Rio Serves 500 Lunches a Day

In a facility the size of a classroom at the end of the sophomore hall, several women stand before stainless steel tables wrapping chicken sandwiches that will be part of the 450 to 500 lunches the cafeteria staff serves every day. 

The crew starts earlier, wrapping fruit and heating sandwiches and other hot food as soon as they return from serving the usual 340 breakfasts before school starts. In between they will serve leftover breakfasts during the morning break.  

“I really like my job, like I love my job,” said Cheryl Moran, the head of food services at Rio Americano.

High schools across California are required to provide a variety of free adequate breakfasts and lunches students can receive. Oftentimes the food is bought in bulk and stored in a freezer until ready to be eaten, and is typically high in calories. 

Although school lunch can fill you up, does what you’re eating actually benefit your developing body?

Despite efforts to make food healthier and more appealing, the amount of waste caused by school lunches has increased in the last five years to over 47%. 

“I do get frustrated when I see all that waste amount,” Moran said. “I just spent all that time doing it just to see it trashed…on the table(s).”

But what can be done to help these dilemmas of unhealthy eating and unnecessary waste?

“We have certain recipes we have to follow,” Moran said. “I just think maybe the variety needs to change.” 

Rio is provided with a variety of food choices students can pick from, even including vegan and vegetarian options. Each day of the week there is a new entree special, but there are eight entrees offered daily as well. 

“The most eaten food is probably the pizza, and the chicken patties and the spicy chicken patties [sandwiches],” Moran said. 

Rio students generally like the school lunch, especially the fan-favorite chicken patty sandwich.

“I do enjoy school lunch very much and sometimes when I am still hungry I go and eat school lunch to fill me up,” an anonymous student said. “I really enjoy all the foods that I can choose and the chocolate milk and juice I drink.” 

Over 24% of Rio students partake in school lunches daily and 19% get breakfast, allowing students from lower-income families to have a meal or two they can depend on. Not only is it beneficial for a growing body to eat full, nutritional meals but it also allows your brain to study and focus better in classes. 

A set menu is given to the lunch staff in charge that they have to prepare every day. The menu is USDA-approved and has a set number of calories and other nutrition factors that the food must have in order to be served. 

Last summer, California revamped school menus, adding vegan masala. However, Rio students have tended to stick with the classics. 

“The least eaten food is probably the masala, or the protein boxes,” Moran said. 

Increased funding in recent years has allowed schools across the state to update menus, adding more of a selection. 

However, Rio is limited in what it can offer because it is the only high school in the district where the kitchen is detached from the cafeteria. 

In Moran’s 29 years of working in San Juan Nutrition Services she has noticed many changes. Something that had a major impact on the school food industry was Covid-19. 

“Prior to Covid nothing was really packaged, but after Covid hit everything had to be,” Moran said. “Now that Covid is lifting a little it’s just now slowly going back.”

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DeLaney Townsend, Staff Writer
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  • KadeMay 22, 2024 at 9:00 AM

    The lunch ladies are very good at their jobs. I often get school lunch and giving out 400 a day is done much faster than expected. The school lunch selection has a good variety, but adding more couldn’t hurt. Food waste is definitely a problem at Rio, but I think the problem is difficult to solve.

  • Grant EMay 19, 2024 at 11:36 PM

    This article effectively highlights the process and effect of the lunches served at rio. Its interesting to see the work that is put into serving so many people at rio and the perspectives of the lunch ladies on people wasting their food. The student interviews helped to give the article more reach and relatibilty to students, such as myself. Great Job!

  • AudreyMay 19, 2024 at 8:44 PM

    While I have never gotten school lunch at Rio, I know quite a few people who do and most of the time they love it. After 4th period, I can sometimes see people running out of their classes to get lunch on the good days, so obviously the staff is doing something right. Even though the food may be good, every day I can see a lot of food being uneaten and left in plastic packages. While I know that the staff can’t really do much to change it, there definitely needs to be a change in the amount of unnecessary packaging that comes with the food. Additionally, I know that there is a senior project going on where there are now compost bins and I think that that is super helpful in disposing of foods properly to lower waste.

  • NPMay 19, 2024 at 5:40 PM

    I thought this was interesting, especially the part about how much food is wasted. I definitely think there are some changes that can be made to reduce food waste.