When junior Kayanna Martin goes to lunch at Buckeye Union High School, she has more meal options to choose from, thanks to a $2,000 cafeteria renovation implemented this school year.
“Last year I was dreading lunch more than looking forward to it,” Martin said. “I was always asking my mom to make me a sandwich instead of having food here. Now we have options.”
Rye Shriver, the director of dining services for the Buckeye Union High School district, said he worked with chef Doug Harris over the summer to create a more welcoming lunchroom environment for Buckeye Union, Youngker and Estrella Foothills high schools. Buckeye’s food service partner, Chartwells K12, was a partner.
“When I was in high school, it felt more like a cafeteria,” Shriver said. “You think of cafeteria and you think of some lunch lady with a hairnet on slapping food on the tray. What we wanted to do is create a different feel, more like you’re going to a mall. We’ve been able to get away from that stigma of being just a cafeteria.”
The lunchrooms now have different stations, serving Latin and delicatessen food, and a “create” station that changes daily.
“Last week, we had a curry vegetable bowl with quinoa and brown rice,” Shriver said. “This week we had a chicken fajita bowl and next week we’re doing tikka masala. We’re definitely trying to introduce different foods.”
According to Shriver, it’s clear the program is a success because the lunches are up by 12,000 meals, compared to last year over the last three months. Prices have stayed the same.
“The great thing about it is that students have all these options but they still pay the same amount,” Shriver said. “All students pretty much pay $3 regardless of what they get.”
The new cafeterias came from funding from the district, and Shriver hopes he will be able to do more.
“Right now we just did a light funding, about $1,200, which we used to add a framing to the front of the lunch station,” Shriver said. “We also added lighting so it adds more of a café feel. We are trying to get the state to fund us a little more so we can have more flexibility to serve the students a lot faster.”
Iris Navarro, who also works with the district, said another goal of the new cafeteria is to educate students. They do this by offering prizes for students who correctly answer questions about nutrition.
“I think they learn a lot from it because a lot of the questions I ask are foods they aren’t really familiar with,” Navarro said. “Maybe they didn’t grow up trying beets. What we try and do is give them a recipe they can enjoy. We want them to realize healthy food doesn’t have to taste bad.”
As for Martin, she feels that the changes have improved her attitude toward eating lunch at school.
“I’m glad that we get a lot of better options for the same price,” Martin said. “If we didn’t have a cafeteria like this, I’d probably just not eat anything.”