After seeking input from students, the UAHS cafeteria rolled out updates including new theme bars

by Sophie Yang, ’19

Upper Arlington High School’s cafeteria recently updated its menu; new theme bars, “grab and go” snack packs and a salad-and-soup line are among the changes.

UA’s Director of Nutritional Services, Irene Hunt, said that they implemented these changes based on a survey of around 600 UAHS students.

“We’re really looking out to get feedback,” Hunt said.

Sophomore Sarah Pisaris, who eats in the cafeteria each week, was one student who completed the survey.

“I think that [the survey] was a really good idea,” Pisaris said.

The survey, which was sent to all students before winter break, showed that most students believed the lines too long and needed faster service. 55 percent of students were also unaware that the cafeteria was open for breakfast in the morning.

Making Changes

To increase communication, the cafeteria began sending updates through Schoology. For shortening wait times, the cafeteria also separated sandwiches from the pizza line.The sandwiches were placed in a new line with salads, soups and yogurt in the West Cafeteria.

The East Cafeteria’s right-hand line is now exclusively for “made-to-order” options. It serves different theme bars each day like gyro, Italian, Asian, Mexican, nacho and deli.

“We’re doing more concepts that students would see if they were going out to eat,” Hunt said.

High school cook Tracy Hunt said she believes the theme bars are an improvement in the cafeteria.

Pizzas, bosco sticks and cookies sit in the pizza line. As part of the cafeteria changes, sandwiches were separated from the pizza line. Photo by Charlotte Janes.

“When we’ve done [themes] before, they’ve been like a home-cooked meal,” Tracy Hunt said. “Now we’re doing more of what people buy [like] Chipotle or the Bibibop. I think that that has really made a huge difference because everyone wants to pick their own food. Everybody has their own taste.”

Junior Mark Malkin, who eats in the cafeteria every day, finds that these Chipotle and Bibibop-like themes are a step in the right direction.

“I usually get [the theme bars] when they’re offered,” Malkin said. “[I think they’re] definitely better than the generic food of the left line.”

The cafeteria also added tofu and has been focusing on more vegetarian options. Overall, they began purchasing more fresh fruits and vegetables.

“We’re looking locally at what is sourced within the county or within Ohio, whether it would be local produce, local meat or local dairy,” Hunt said. “Hopefully next year, we’ll be highlighting more of those items on our menus.”

Sophomore Erin Lynch, who has been a vegetarian for over a year and buys in the cafeteria, said that she approved of the fresh fruits and vegetables.

“I guess I have noticed more vegetables, but they’ve always had the fruit packs,” Lynch said. “I like the tofu [too]… it’s pretty good most of the time.”

Grab-and-go snack packs with fruit, salad and sandwiches are shown in a cafeteria line. The cafeteria has been buying more fresh fruits and vegetables. Photo by Charlotte Janes.

Behind the Scenes

Due to the changes, the cafeteria cooks have also had more creativity with concepts.

High school cook Melissa Holden said that she likes cooking the pizzas most.

“I’ll add seasonings to [the pizzas] like Italian cheeses,” Holden said. “We get special vegetables, and we try to transfer that over.”

Generally, menus are planned a few weeks in advance. Cafeteria cooks also rotate roles every three weeks, which include baking pizzas, compiling sandwiches and salads, and catering for school events around the district.

“We do a lot of catering for here like the staff appreciation week… We did stuff for Mid-Ohio Foodbank,” Holden said. “That gets to be cool because we get ingredients that we normally don’t use. We get to be a little more creative.”

A student’s lunch, which includes an apple and sandwich, lays on a table in the cafeteria. As part of the changes, the cafeteria has tried to provide more fruit. Photo by Charlotte Janes.

Dianna Vernon, head cook for the district, believes that the cafeteria changes have allowed her and other cafeteria cooks to develop new skill sets.

“I’ve always liked to cook,” Vernon said. “I took my first cooking class when I was 10 years old. I like trying new things [and] being able to challenge my skills… All of our staff members work hard toward that goal.”

The changes have also marked a difference in the food preparation.

“We set when everything has to be ready and work backward from a preparation and production schedule,” Hunt said. “We’re doing a lot more as far as chopping fresh vegetables and preparing those items for the line.”

Looking Ahead

Next year, the cafeteria will begin using Nutrislice, a mobile app that displays school lunch menus. The app will include nutritional information about UAHS’s dishes, including number of calories, total fat and protein.

On Jan. 9, the cafeteria also held a made-to-order omelet bar in which students built an order and waited as their omelets were cooked. In the future, the cafeteria hopes to try more specials like this one.

“I’d really like to [try] some Asian or Pasta tosses, doing more of those ‘made to order’ stations as you wait,” Hunt said. “For us, it’s challenging because of the space [we have] right now.”

Ways to make food accessible outside of the cafeteria — such as a kiosk — are also being considered.

Students Respond

Hunt believes that the changes have brought new students to the lunch line.

“Throughout the year we’ve had more students that are participating… especially now that we’re getting communication out,” Hunt said.

Junior Mimi Cai, who usually goes to the theme bar line, said that she enjoys the new updates.

“I really like the spaghetti and also the burrito bowl,” Cai said. “[The new bars] give you more options on what you eat, and it’s also healthier than pizza.”

Cai finds that another benefit of eating in the cafeteria is the price.

“It’s definitely a lot cheaper than other restaurants. [However], sometimes the variety can be a little lacking, and it’s the same thing every week,” Cai said.

Grab-and-go snack packs with fruit, salad and sandwiches are shown in a cafeteria line. The cafeteria has been buying more fresh fruits and vegetables. Photo by Charlotte Janes.

Although sophomore Erin Lynch has not changed her habits due to the new changes, she said that the food at UAHS compares well to other schools.

“[Our cafeteria] is good compared to other cafeterias I’ve eaten in, but other times, it can be kind of bland,” Lynch said.

Many students, such as sophomore Sarah Pisaris, find that the amount of time during lunch periods is a major benefit of buying from the lunch lines.

“You don’t feel the time crunch when you’re in the cafeteria,” Pisaris said.

Hunt agrees that time is a major benefit of eating in the school cafeteria.

“Though there are 45 minutes per lunch, [students] want to get through in less than 10 or 15 minutes. Our goal is to get them through in the first 10 or 15 minutes,” Hunt said.

District head cook Dianna Vernon agrees that students have responded differently to the changes.

“Some kids [see] us doing the made-to-order omelets and they love them. But then you’ve got that group of kids that it doesn’t matter what they do, they’re going to eat pizza and french fries every day,” Vernon said.

Next year, the cafeteria will send another survey to students for opinions on new changes.