Editorial: Herbi-more

There should be a wider selection of vegetarian lunch options to accommodate the diverse diets of the West High student body.


William Cheng

West High should increase the variety of vegetarian lunches.

Designing the lunch menu is an intricate balancing act between cooking and transportation logistics, federal requirements and student demand. With all this to consider, additional vegetarian options end up slipping through the cracks. Students are always guaranteed at least one vegetarian choice, but only in the unhealthy form of Domino’s cheese pizza. However, this option is overused, being the sole vegetarian entree at West for about 42% of school days. This is too frequent. Vegetarian students should be able to enjoy a variety of entrees, instead of eating pizza twice a week. For that reason, it is necessary for West High to provide a vegetarian alternative every day and increase the diversity of the vegetarian entrees.

When coordinating meals, the ICCSD follows the United States Department of Agriculture’s school lunch nutrition standards. These guidelines require all food groups to be present and the rotation of different vegetable subgroups. Additionally, meals must meet certain sodium levels, stay under the calorie limits for various age groups and eliminate trans fat from the cooking process. After the district’s Nutrition Services creates a draft of the menu that complies with the regulations, West kitchen staff members also contribute to the plan, providing input on the feasibility of the recipes and insight on student preferences.

The USDA also requires schools to provide a diet modification request form for students with a medical need for certain dietary restrictions. This form is not available for students with religious or cultural dietary limitations, with those being considered preferences. However, the district takes some religious dietary restrictions into account during the creation of the menu. The district avoids serving beef and pork options on the same day to accommodate those who are Muslim, Jewish or Hindu and cannot eat certain meats. This is not enough, religious dietary limitations aren’t preferences, and should not be treated as such.

Providing an assortment of entrees is necessary to accommodate not only religious restrictions but also vegetarians. Even if it is a lifestyle choice for some, vegetarians deserve to be given healthy, diverse and tasty options like those without dietary preferences and restrictions.

The diversity of vegetarian-friendly meals offered at West High is lacking. Non-vegetarian students have an incredible amount of variety in their lunch choices, from chicken dumplings to turkey corn dogs to beef chili. In the first 100 days of school, there were 74 distinct non-vegetarian entrees but only 16 vegetarian options. This data was collected from MealViewer, an application the ICCSD uses to post the meals and nutritional information for breakfast, lunch and a la carte products. Around 87.5% of the vegetarian entrees in the 2022-23 school year were cheese-based, with the most common being cheese pizza cruncher, school-made cheese pizza and breaded mozzarella cheese sticks, appearing 10, eight and eight times, respectively. This could be a struggle for lactose-intolerant students and makes it almost impossible for vegan students to ever consume school lunches. The absence of variation in the vegetarian alternatives is disappointing because everyone deserves to look forward to their lunch, something that is hard to do if it’s the same few choices the majority of days.

Something that could add variety is the a la carte options. The vegetarian products sold are Uncrustables, a veggie bagel and a vegetarian salad, but besides the Uncrustables, the bagel and salad options cannot be relied upon as they aren’t always in stock. Most of the salad options are sold with chicken, and the veggie bagel is seldom present. The unpredictability and expensiveness of the a la carte choices makes it even more vital that the hot lunch lines consistently carry a vegetarian entree. 

With the diversity of the ICCSD student body that has dietary restrictions, it is necessary to accommodate all students and go beyond the bare minimum. It is essential to include a main entree every day that is meat-free for the enjoyment of all individuals. West High should also seek to vary its vegetarian choices, going beyond cheese-based meals to entrees containing other healthy protein options, such as beans, tofu and tempeh. Alternate choices are a necessity to make our food services more equitable for all students.