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By Porsha Stennis, Lindblom

and Emily Farns, Eisenhower

“Where are my nachos?”

“Why is this pizza crust brown?”

“Yum!”

Chicagoland teenagers have had mixed reactions to the changes that have been implemented in their cafeterias this school year. In an effort to curb the country’s increasing obesity rate—26.3 percent of Illinoisans are obese, according to recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—schools are trying to change the eating habits of their students.

At CPS high schools, the menus vary, but some small changes are universal. For instance, there are no more doughnuts or Pop-Tarts for breakfast, and fewer sugary cereals. At lunchtime, there are noticably more vegetable dishes and nachos show up less frequently. But there’s one food that CPS students kept referring to in conversations with The Mash: whole-grain pizzas.

A typical CPS lunch might include a slice of pizza on whole-grain thin crust, fresh fruit, a carton of skim milk and a side of vegetables or brown rice.

The food is earning mixed reactions.

Lindblom senior Mariah Dixon said “the lunches are good for health but have no taste at all.”

But her classmate Ashaunai Scott, another Lindblom senior, thinks the food isn’t as bad as she thought it would be. The new lunches were tested at Lindblom before the end of the last school year when Chartwells-Thompson, the CPS food service provider, displayed a new menu of potential entrees (including veggie burgers and a variety of wheat wraps) and surveyed students about what they thought. Who knew that these changes would become final?

“The food just needs a little seasoning, but it’s healthier and tasty,” Scott said.

Bob Bloomer, a regional vice president at Chartwells, told the Chicago Tribune that his company added “less processed” meals including Santa Fe quesadillas, fish tacos, Korean barbecue ribs and chicken fajitas to CPS menus.

And Louise Esaian, the CPS head of school nutrition, acknowledged that “we’ve had some real hits and a couple of misses.”

And it’s not just city teens who are eating better. Some suburban high schools are also implementing menu changes this year, though not on the same large scale as CPS. For instance, students in District 218—which includes Eisenhower, Richards and Shepard—still get burgers, nachos, tacos, fries and pizza almost every day. Recent specials included a greasy double cheeseburger and popcorn chicken.

But this year, District 218 students can also choose to eat a salad, sandwich on whole-grain bread or pita-bread pizza. No pop is available. Vending machines still contain fattening food such as chips and candy, but some of the chips are baked.

“We have a lot to choose from,” said Eisenhower senior Eric Callon, “but most of the food we have a selection from is unhealthy.”

Tracy Waters, a junior at Shepard, said it’s up to students whether or not they choose the healthy entrees.

“You can use your common sense to get a salad instead of tacos if you really want to watch your weight,” Waters said. “That’s what I like about our lunches—we have a choice on how we choose to eat.”

Some students around Chicago think that allowing students only healthy food options and eliminating the greasy, fatty food completely would be a better way to improve teens’ health.

“If you give (students) the option of healthy or junk, the majority will pick junk,” said Melissa McDermott, a senior at Marist. “That’s not going to help the obesity level in America go down.”

At least one teen also believes that students who eat bad foods could be cheating themselves out of good grades.

“I do think school should serve healthy food because it helps you think better,” said Sandburg junior Lauren Palmer. “And when you think better, you do better in school.”

And that’s food for thought.

—Chicago Tribune contributed


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About The Mash

The Mash is the Chicago Tribune's newspaper and website written for teens, by teens. The paper is distributed for free each Thursday at Chicago-area high schools and is written largely by high school students.

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