Students Want More Fast Food in School Cafeterias : Nutrition: Restricted to campus at lunchtime, youths in Norwalk-La Mirada district want to dump usual fare, leaving a bad taste in mouths of worried kitchen employees.
They’re not exactly rioting, but hungry students stuck in Norwalk-La Mirada district high schools for lunch are clamoring for more fast food.
Ever since the district restricted high school students to their campuses during school hours this year, they have wanted cafeteria food dumped in favor of french fries, hamburgers and pizza.
Taco Bell started supplying burritos this month to three of the district’s four high schools. Now school officials are considering bringing in Pizza Hut and Kentucky Fried Chicken. And many students are all for it.
“They should bring in Pizza Hut. Anything. Wendy’s. McDonalds,” said John Glenn High School junior Danny Viramontes, 16, while munching lunch prepared in the cafeteria. Before him was a plate of tortilla chips turned soggy by a brilliant sauce of nacho cheese.
“This stuff here tastes bad,” Viramontes said. “I want variety.”
School officials agreed to introduce fast food at the high schools after deciding last year that students should stay on campus during the school day to ensure their safety.
But the plan has left a bad taste in the mouths of cafeteria workers. They fear their jobs will be endangered if the district buys fast food from suppliers instead of having employees cook meals.
Supt. Robert Aguilar has promised that no jobs would be lost.
At a meeting last week, school board members requested additional information about prospective suppliers, including the nutritional value of fast food and the effect of the proposal on cafeteria workers’ jobs.
School districts that offer Taco Bell food have not laid off employees, said an official of the Irvine-based Taco Bell Corp., which delivers burritos to about 200 schools in the Los Angeles area.
“Usually we train cafeteria workers so people aren’t displaced from their jobs,” spokeswoman Janis Smith said. The workers continue to be school district employees.
Dvora Pariente, a labor relations representative for the California School Employees Assn., which represents about 120 cafeteria workers in the Norwalk-La Mirada school district, said she isn’t convinced that workers would not suffer.
“We’re concerned about a reduction in hours,” she said.
Some school board members are concerned about the quality of the food now being offered to students.
On a recent visit to John Glenn High School, Trustee Jesse Luera sampled cafeteria food and said it was too salty. The district should listen to students’ complaints, he said.
“We need to give them a little more selection,” he said. “I think all the kids were saying is ‘Keep the good things, and give us more alternatives.’ ”
Taco Bell already supplies about 300 burritos each day to John Glenn, La Mirada and Norwalk high schools at a cost of 48 to 56 cents apiece. The burritos are then sold to students for $1 and $1.35.
Food services Director Jenny Gamachi said Taco Bell burritos are a tiny share of the total meals provided to students every day. High school cafeterias also serve about 50 items, including their own burritos, green salads, chimichangas and pepperoni hot pocket sandwiches, Gamachi said.
Last year, the district spent about $1.6 million preparing 1.6 million lunches. And officials expect that figure to increase because more students are eating at school, Gamachi said.
Gamachi said she is aware of complaints about the choices on the school menu. Many students say cafeteria food is greasy, stale or undercooked, she said.
“It’s the normal bashing of food services we normally get,” Gamachi said. “I know it’s not like a restaurant. But I think for the price--and I try to keep the price as reasonable as possible--our quality is satisfactory.” The lunches generally cost $1 to $2.
Even though Taco Bell’s prices fall in the same range, students have complained because the same items often cost less than a dollar off campus.
Burritos sold by Taco Bell taste better than those prepared in John Glenn High School’s kitchens, said senior Sergio Alatorre, 16, but he objected to the school markup.
“It should cost the same,” Alatorre said.
But to other students faced with lunch in the school cafeteria, the only issue is taste.
“The food they make is nasty,” said John Glenn junior Oscar Santana, 16. “The (cafeteria) burritos taste like old beans. They put them in the freezer, and when they heat them, they don’t come out good.”
Times community correspondent John Pope contributed to this report.
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