Ask Christ School senior Addison Honeycutt, and he’ll tell you that healthy eating options abound at the private, all-male Episcopal school, citing the baskets of apples and extensive salad bar in the dining hall. And while most of his classmates live on the Arden campus, Honeycutt, a day student, can compare the meal offerings to what he previously had at Cane Creek Middle School. The food at Christ School, he says, is “far superior. … We get much better choices, more options.”
Still, “There are definitely off days,” notes Honeycutt, who says he wishes the dining hall offered a wider variety of fresh fruits and that the overall quality were higher.
Fellow senior Jon Meidl of Franklin, Tenn., points out that meals are generally built around fried foods and not as balanced as he’d like. “It’s not gourmet,” he observes, though he adds that the quality has improved since his freshman year.
Renovations to the dining hall last summer added a screened-in porch and seating for up to 100 more diners. The facility also got new ovens and the school’s first-ever steamer.
Dining hall manager Gene Connors works for a private company that contracts with the Christ School to manage the meal service, order the food and hire the staff. Although there are no set nutritional guidelines, Connors, who’s worked at the school for a little more than two years, says he tries to provide healthy eating options while honoring students’ wishes. The weekly Steak Night introduced this year has been a big hit.
“It’s definitely a two-way street,” Connors says of his relationship with the school. He reports directly to the administration to coordinate meal plans and next steps for the dining hall.
Connors lists several new items he suggested this year — fruit smoothies, customizable omelets and even sushi — that have caught on fast.
“We have to keep the menu fresh” to keep students happy, he emphasizes. That includes buying regional produce and even some organic foods.
Several times a year, the dining hall surveys students and faculty, seeking input on ways to improve their services. A comment board also solicits feedback. If someone requests a particular dish, the dining hall will do its best to offer it, notes Connors.
Another new feature offering students healthier options than the two main buffets is a cook-to-order station. Popular items include wraps, salads and pastas.
Waste not, want not
Not everyone is equally impressed, however. “I throw away 50 percent of my food [each week],” said one student who asked not to be identified. “Which is horrible, [but] there’s something that puts you off your appetite.”
Connors says the dining hall has cut down on food waste by reducing portion sizes and providing several different stations from which students can sample.
Gil Cushman, a freshman from Myrtle Beach, S.C., who’d like to pursue a career in sustainable agriculture, believes some system to discourage waste is needed. He’d also like to see the school offer more organic options. “The hormones and antibiotics in [conventionally farmed] dairy are particularly harmful,” Cushman notes.
In 2009, several faculty members started an on-campus garden with the goal of teaching students gardening skills. This spring, the dining hall plans to begin composting food wastes for use in the garden. Several students voiced their support. Composting, says Honeycutt, “would put to use a lot of the waste,” and Cushman notes that he’d love to see the dining hall serve vegetables grown in the garden.
Nutrition aside, the dining hall also does its bit for sustainability, using 100 percent recycled-paper napkins, recycling its cardboard and sending its used cooking oil to Blue Ridge Biofuels. On days when the dining hall organizes cookouts, biodegradable, disposable tableware is used.
And while student assessments vary, the dining hall at Christ School does serve fresh fruits, a wide variety of vegetables, and main courses aimed at providing adequate nutrition for a school of growing teenage boys.
— Gabe Dunsmith is a senior at Christ School in Arden.