December 1, 2021

Concerns raised over size of school lunches

Tallon Rundell looked down at his school tray and took a picture of what was on it: half a ham-and-cheese sandwich, an apple, a small block of cheese and a carton of milk.

Rundell, a 14-year old freshman at Cortland High School, sent the photo to his mother Sept. 21.

“I felt a little depressed after I saw that,” he said. “I was like, ‘This is not even a lunch.’”

Francis Zarkyski, the school lunch manager for the Cortland Enlarged City School District, said he wasn’t sure what the circumstances surrounded that meal offering as the district doesn’t have “a practice of making half-size sandwiches.”

He said though that he would speak with his staff to review food preparation, and any concerned parent should contact him.

While seemingly small, the meal was mostly in line with the National School Lunch Program’s meal pattern.

The pattern requires high school students to be offered at least:

One cup of fruits per day.

One cup of vegetables per day.

Two ounces of grain per day.

Two ounces of meat or meat alternatives per day.

One cup of milk per day.

More items and foods are included in the list.

After seeing the video of the food, Esther Cobb, Rundell’s mother, posted to Facebook.

“A half a sandwich, and [sic] apple, a thing of milk and what looks like a brick of cheese,” Cobb posted. “Like seriously? No wonder my kids come home complaining they are hungry.”

The changes in lunch are a far cry from what the district previously was able to offer prior to the pandemic, Rundell said.

Most notably, the district hasn’t been serving hot dishes this year, instead relying on cold sandwiches.

Zarkyski said that this has been done out of safety, to make sure students don’t cluster when lining up for meals. Since reopening, students in the high school have been getting their meals from nine locations around the school and taking them back to other classrooms.

Fourth-grader Skylynn Sanford, 9, has complained to her mother, Cindy Young, about the district’s lunches, Young said.

“Every day she comes home saying she’s hungry,” Young said.

Young said Skylynn started complaining about the food when school first began but was sympathetic to the district’s situation returning to in-person classes during the pandemic and all the changes it had brought. She started getting concerned though as the first month completed and all of the lunches were cold sandwiches.

While students are usually offered two types of sandwiches — a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or one usually with meat and cheese — Young said Sanford’s only option is whatever the non-peanut butter and jelly sandwich as two of Sanford’s classmates have peanut butter allergies and the class eats together in the same room.

This leaves Sanford coming home and eating large meals regularly at 3 p.m.

Young sends Sanford along with extra snacks to help, but Sanford remains hungry.

Young said she hadn’t reached out to school staff yet as she wasn’t sure on how widespread the issue is and with whom to speak.

Since seeing the video, Cobb has had Rundell switch from in-person to remote learning so he can have a full lunch at home.

At home now, he normally eats one or two full sandwiches with lots of meat, soup, salad or a couple of bowls of cereal, Rundell said.

Cobb’s request for the district is simple: Give students a full meal.

“I mean, you’re talking about growing kids,” she said.