Starving for knowledge

It’s Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. She clutches her stomach as it growls, trying to ignore the sounds as she takes notes during her sixth period class. She hasn’t eaten anything since breakfast this morning before she left for school. It’s lunch time, and Marina Romano ’09 has no frees today to sit down and have a healthy meal.

Romano, a student who takes two foreign language classes and an elective, doesn’t have time to eat the recommended three meals a day on Wednesdays, which poses a problem for her during class when she becomes hungry.

Romano is not alone in suffering from skipping a meal on certain days of the week. Other students, especially those who take extra classes or electives, lose out on having at least one free period a day to eat lunch.

Students are faced with the choice of eating during class, snacking or proceeding through their day famished and fatigued.

“If I eat a meal in class, it will take away from concentrating and taking notes,” Romano said.

Eating during class can disrupt a student’s performance by interfering with their focus, and sometimes even hindering students around them who become distracted by chewing or the smell of the food.

Romano tries to quickly rush in and out of the cafeteria and grab a quick snack in between classes, but it sometimes results in her being late to class which poses another problem: tardies.

To avoid tardies, students can pack lunches from home and bring them to school.

Shawn Fateh ’09 has blocks seventh and eighth period but often gets hungry during a day when he has no other free periods.  The fact that the school has no set lunch period is a problem for students who don’t have a block or only have a free period early in the morning.

As Fateh stands in the cafeteria and looks at the shelf holding all the bags of chips, he decides on Kettle chips.

 “They’re at least a little bit healthy,” he said.  “The worst part about grabbing food in between classes is that you’re really rushed and sometimes you grab something you don’t actually want.”

When looking for a healthy option, fitness and nutrition consultant Paula D’ Andrea advises students to “stay away from fried, salty, carbohydrates and high fat content foods. You want to go with something more substantial—a protein source.”

Some students worry that the snacks they eat are not healthy meals.  The lack of time to decide what to buy and the large crowd that usually accumulates in the cafeteria during free periods often make it very difficult to make a healthy decision. 

 On the go, students mostly grab food that is located in the front of the cafeteria. Jakarri Hamlin ’08 admits that he buys candy because it is located right on the checkout counter and doesn’t require fighting his way through the crowds into the middle of the cafeteria.

In hopes of satisfying students’ hunger, a simple meal replacement does wonders, but only for a short period of time. Energy bars can be deceiving to the eye—most of them contain a lot of sugar. Bars packed with protein and fiber are a healthier way to keep a student’s stamina and glucose levels up, registered dietitian Lanah J. Brennan said.

Skipping meals during the day usually leads to eating too much later on, Brennan said.

“Teenagers will eat the first thing that they see and not make the best choice,” she said. “They drift towards vending machines or fast food such as McDonalds.”

Along with making unhealthy food choices as a result of skipping meals, students won’t be at their best mental or physical performances, due to a lack of glucose to the brain, Brennan said.

“I just don’t eat,” Jason Mow ’09 said. “My teachers don’t mind if I eat in class, but I just don’t have time to get food in the cafeteria. Then again, since I passed out in training the other day, I’m going to buy a sandwich before school to eat at some point during the day.”

 Mow has no free periods on Wednesdays and Fridays.

The question emerges as to why there isn’t a set lunch period like in seventh and eighth grade at the Middle School.

The cafeteria facility can not handle the number of people who need to be fed during one set period, Head of Upper School Harry Salamandra said.

Along with the configuration of the cafeteria, another reason why is because during every single period, there are a lot of classes going on. All students take so many different classes that it is difficult to schedule in a time when all students can be free at once, Salamandra said.

“Several groups on campus have discussed it (the lunch period), and we don’t have a solution yet,” Salamandra said.

In order to accommodate all students and have one set lunch period, many compromises would have to be made; reducing the number of classes offered, lengthening the day by 30 to 45 minutes, and/or enlarging the facilities at the school.

“Construction is not an immediate fix,” Salamandra said. “However, we are starting to look at how to improve this campus long term, in hopes of enlarging the facilities such as the cafeteria.”

The idea of instituting satellite distribution points where students can buy pre-made lunches has been discussed by various on-campus groups, and they aim to hopefully further develop this plan for the future, Salamandra said.

“Nutrition and sleep are so important,” he said. “We understand that they are key components in success when we are asking a lot and you guys are asking a lot from yourselves.”

—Additional reporting by Sean Kyle

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