LAWRENCEVILLE -- Phoenix High School student Ebonee Holmes is excited that she no longer has to leave campus to buy lunch.
"I was spending $20 to $25 a week on fast food," said Holmes, 18.
Now she gets lunch from a vending machine.
But these machines, installed at Phoenix High about three weeks ago, aren't stocked with candy bars and empty calories. The machines serve balanced meals that meet the same nutritional guidelines as the food served at other high schools, said Karen Crawford, Gwinnett County Public Schools' nutrition education coordinator.
Before the machines were installed, students could not participate in the school meal program because Phoenix does not have a kitchen or a cafeteria. Students had two options -- leave campus or bring a meal from home.
When the lunch hour begins, students can now purchase a full school meal -- an entree, two sides and a milk -- for $2, the same price as lunches served in other high school. The machines also serve students eligible for the free and reduced lunch program.
Many of the items sold in the machines, such as wraps and side salads, are the same foods found in school cafeterias throughout the county. The food is prepared at the nearby Hooper Renwick School. Crawford said those items are balanced with popular food items like individually wrapped pizzas.
The temperature-controlled machines are also stocked with breakfast items. Outside of the designated meal times, the food items can be purchased a la carte.
"I think it's really, really good," Holmes said. "It's very tasty, and it's very fresh as well. It fills me up."
Marco Alejos, 19, said the vending machines are "awesome."
"When you're hungry, you not only distract yourself but you distract others with the growls you are making from your stomach," he said.
Phoenix principal Donna Scott said she is delighted that students have been using the machine.
Because students are staying on campus to eat, the school has seen an increase in the number of students who seek extra help from their teachers, she said.
"They're not having to go stand in line at Zaxby's," she said. "They're staying here with us."
The vending machines are a unique way to serve school lunch, said Ken Yant, the school system's director of nutrition.
"We like to be on the cutting edge," he said.