Food for thought: spirit lunches

Every day, Hinsdale Central students robotically advance through the cafeteria’s lunch
lines, preparing for a neglected tray with another soggy hamburger, another greasy slice of
pizza, another deflated turkey sandwich. The middle and elementary-school days of spirit
lunches have passed, replaced by a “GroundHog Day Effect” in which students find themselves
in constant routine, involving the consumption of the same lunch options. In an era of mental
health awareness, the chronic sameness of everyday life should not only be identified, but
modified, and the solution is clear: implementing semi-weekly spirit lunches.
Hinsdale Central has evidently witnessed changes aimed towards livening up the school
week; Monday late-starts and monthly flex days are two examples. However, little to no
substantial changes have been directed towards the only period that all students share: lunch.
Why is this? Why should students be limited to what the school offers? Or more, why is the
school not offering what most students want?
91.7% of 36 surveyed Hinsdale Central students reported that they would support the
implementation of periodic spirit lunches consisting of catered food from popular food chains or
local restaurants; 28 of these students have attended a school that offered this. An anonymous
student expressed their grievances with Central’s current lunch options, arguing that catered
spirit lunches would be “a great way to encourage school spirit and look forward to something
in the week or month.”
School spirit isn’t just a matter of pride, it’s a matter of mental health, as it’s necessary
in deconstructing the “GroundhogDay Effect” prevalent in schools across the country.
Psychologist Phil Tangalia explains that because schools are built on routine, students often find
themselves stuck in a “loop of frustration and stress.” These aren’t baseless concerns. The CDC
quantifies that in the United States, more than one in three high school students experienced
persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in 2019.
Opponents to spirit lunches offer concerns relating to the nutrition of the food and the
practicality of catering to the school. Benita Gingerella from the University of Notre Dame
responds by providing the information that there are programs specifically designed toward
streamlining the process, picking up and serving the food in schools. In the Chicagoland area,
specifically, Kiddos Catering “has been distributing restaurant lunches to schools for more than
10 years with a 99.9% accuracy rate,” Gingeralla reports. The company, which began in 2007,
now serves 20 public schools, including Deerfield High School. Moreover, restaurants that
partner with Kiddos are required to make their food from scratch daily using fresh ingredients
and must be able to handle the volume.
Not only would implementing semi-weekly spirit lunches promote school spirit and
appease widely-shared mental health concerns, but it’s practical and healthy. Promoting a
forward thinking mindset, the assurance of spirit lunches is the panacea to the nauseating
feeling of another upcoming identical week with the same lunch choices, and it’s about time for
the D86 Board of Education to recognize it.