The Student Site of Castilleja School


The Student Site of Castilleja School


The Student Site of Castilleja School


Behind the scenes of school lunch

Michaela Miller
What goes on behind the scenes of Casti Lunches? Will we ever get Pasta Bar back?

Over the past few decades, Casti’s lunch has undergone significant changes, such as the fact that the food is now included in the tuition and food has become a healthy and nutritious way to bring the community together.

Since COVID, the food has undergone smaller adjustments, such as new chefs, new machines and changes to the menu. With new chefs joining the community over time, the idea and purpose of food have changed and become a fundamental part of the Castilleja experience.

Life is returning to normal after the COVID-19 pandemic, and that means Casti’s food is too. I’ve been at Castilleja since the fall of 2020, so I’ve only really experienced the COVID lunches and the current lunches. When applying, the prospective students heard the student body talk about how amazing the food was, and I wanted to learn more about what it was really like.

To fully understand how things have changed, let’s go back a few decades. Lunch previously served as a major socioeconomic symbol and barrier within the student body. The boarding students had school lunch included in the tuition, while day students had the option of paying for school lunch; however, most brought their own lunch. The system of school lunches was complicated with someone standing at the door with a clipboard making sure everyone paid. History teacher and Castilleja alum Dr. Heather Pang, also the school archivist, said she thought that was an “uncomfortable way to go to lunch.”

Pang said she remembers that “it really divided [us]. You hung out with the people who ate the way you ate lunch. I felt like it really split our campus.” In the ’90s, they made the switch to have everyone eat in the dining room, which Pang recalled being “one of the biggest differences in keeping us united as a school.”

Over time, things have changed, but what Pang likes about the system is that “as they update some things, they’re kind of trying to make sure that we keep the Casti traditions.” In the late 70s, a beloved member of Castilleja’s community made a big difference in the food experience at Casti, and his name was Rudy DeCaminada. Pang remembers he “really got to know every student sort of the way our food service people do now.” DeCaminada started many of the Casti traditions, and he saw food as a way to bring people together, not to separate them.

But the food at Casti hasn’t always been the spectacular quality it is today. In the 1950s, many dorm students complained about the food. In fact, they would sneak food from downtown Palo Alto into their dorms. Dr. Pang remembers that “Rudy was the one who changed that.” In 1998, the food became included in the tuition.

Now on to more recent food history. As some of us know, after the COVID bagged lunches, the food took some time to return to the routine hot lunch. Now it is very similar to the old lunch, however, more of us eat outside.

When asked how the lunch has changed since COVID, Emma Foster ‘24, senior, recalls “We always run out of food. If I get there late, there’s nothing left.”

Katherine Cheng ‘26 says she “[wishes] they’d bring back the Swedish meatballs and sloppy joes” as well as more dessert options, like fro-yo flavors. With all of these modern changes due to COVID, something that has not changed is the way food brings us all together.

Last year, we welcomed a new chef into our community— Chef Lloyd Higgins. According to Higgins, the three most popular dishes are noodle bar, pasta bar, and mac and cheese. He says he likes to keep the traditions and “add [his] little jazz to it.”

Higgins is Jamaican, and shared that he enjoys preparing Caribbean cuisine. He “[doesn’t] want the lunch to feel like cafeteria lunch” because when he went to school, he didn’t like the school lunch. He also shared that he enjoys testing food on the grill.

Foster, who uses they/them pronouns, said that the grill options used to be “less fleshed out,” but now, the options are much more diverse, which they love. There are also many more vegetarian options available, and vegetables are more readily incorporated into lunches.

While conducting interviews, I realized that many of us have common favorites, such as noodle bar, pasta bar, tomato soup, and bagel bar. Emma said, “I like how they diversify the options, but I definitely do have memories associated with noodle bar and bagel bar…that I do miss and I wish they would bring that stuff back.”

When polled, students agreed noodle bar should be made more often, and they said they enjoyed having it last week.

Another possible reason why Casti’s lunch has changed is competition, specifically with other schools. While interviewing new nine Kaelyn Fisher ‘27, she shared with me that Casti’s lunch is “a step up” compared to the lunch at her old school. Elaina Huang ‘27, a previous Casti student who now attends Menlo School, says she likes Menlo’s lunch better because they have two soup options and for the main course, and Menlo’s food “just tastes better.”

Additionally, when asked whether or not Menlo’s lunches have met her expectations, she states, “They exceeded my expectations because I thought school lunches couldn’t really get better than Casti’s.”

When you think of your favorite Casti lunch, what comes to mind? Noodle bar, pasta shapes, or grilled cheese and tomato soup? If you are interested in this topic, be sure to check out Pang’s book on Casti’s history, “Celebrating a Century” in the library.

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About the Contributors
Anya Dalal
Anya Dalal, Staff Writer
Anya Dalal '27 is a staff writer for Counterpoint. She loves playing sports, especially soccer, and playing with her dog. She also enjoys reading, listening to The Weeknd, making music and eating mint chip ice cream.
Michaela Miller
Michaela Miller, Photographer
Michaela Miller ‘27 is a photographer for Counterpoint. When she is not taking photos, or editing photos, she's probably playing tennis, playing video games or eating Trader Joe’s Takis.

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    Liz Babb | Jan 19, 2024 at 10:40 am

    I like the historical angle to this story. I brought my lunch to Castilleja in the late 70’s / early 80’s. My mom did not enjoy making my lunch or my brothers’ lunches (they went to Menlo) and thus they were not particularly healthy or interesting.

    I do enjoy the lunches at the school now that I’m back and lunch for faculty and staff is a huge benefit for working professionals. The offering helps the school attract outstanding employees and is an important part of the benefit package. I appreciate healthy options. I have a restricted diet and it’s important to me that the dining hall continues to offer healthy alternatives. I appreciate Chef Lloyd. Even though I brought my lunch to school in the old days, I remember Rudy and he was indeed a positive force at the school. Chef Lloyd definitely reminds me of Rudy!