Hey, let’s start the food craziness as young as we can.

A school in Chicago is actually banning homemade lunches (unless a kid has allergies). If they don’t want the school lunch, oh, well, sucks to be them. If they don’t qualify for free or reduced lunch, but $2.25 a day still seems a little pricey compared to a sandwich and a baggie of veggies, too bad.

There are so many things wrong with this that I don’t know where to start. First off, it’s really overstepping the school’s boundaries to say parents can’t send a lunch with their kids. It’s a slap in the face that implies parents are too dumb to properly feed their kids and that teenagers aren’t capable of putting their own lunches together.

Secondly, the fact that they only offer reduced fat dressings and mayonnaise–well, that sounds good, but it depends on the salad dressing. Since it’s a school cafeteria, I’m guessing they’re cheap and not wonderful. A lot of reduced fat dressings are kind of gross, and if that’s the only option a kid has for eating a salad, how many will just pass on the veggies completely? But somehow that’s supposed to be better than eating and learning to like veggies with real salad dressing.

Third, if a school is insisting that its meals are the only thing kids can have, they had darn well better be providing meals acceptable for all religious and ethical food requirements. And not, “Oh, you’re a vegan, you can eat salad every day”–an actual balanced meal with kosher, halal, and vegetarian/vegan options. Something tells me they’re not managing that.

I’m pretty sure that parents and older kids have a much better idea of what would be good for that individual kid to have for lunch on a daily basis than a cafeteria trying to feed hundreds of kids. Depending on metabolism, growth, and activity level, some kids might need a lot more food than others. I worry that all the concern about “not making kids fat” is going to mean not feeding them enough–which can, ironically, screw up their metabolisms and make some of them heavier.

Plus, the main function of school is to have kids learn, not to be their babysitter, dietitian, life coach, and parent. School lunches should support that purpose, but if kids don’t get enough food or are skipping meals because they aren’t allowed to pack their own lunch, their academic performance is going to suffer. And seriously, with budgets getting cut left and right, schools are hard-pressed to do their one main job and do it well. A lot of them don’t do it well. Do they really need to divide their attention by being the food police too?

The other really problematic thing about this is that it teaches kids a restrictive attitude toward food, as well as making sweet and fatty foods forbidden—and all the more attractive. When I was in high school, I remember coming home at 3:45 or so absolutely ravenous, having had lunch around 11:30. And the first thing I wanted was a sweet or fatty snack. Limit kids’ calories and severely restrict their choices at school, and a lot of them will probably tear into the potato chips and Little Debbies the minute they get home. Not because they’re greedy or gluttonous or bad, but because that’s what your body wants when you haven’t had food for a while, and because when you get past a certain level of hunger, your sense of fullness gets out of whack. Especially if, you know, you’re a growing child.

Even worse than this school, though, is a school in Tucson mentioned toward the end of the article. They have a bunch of restrictions on what parents can send with their kids: they can send a lunch “only if nothing in them contains white flour, refined sugar, or other ‘processed’ foods” but the school doesn’t have a cafeteria. Seriously, when you’re not providing an alternative, you shouldn’t get to dictate what parents provide.

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10 thoughts on “Hey, let’s start the food craziness as young as we can.

  1. Kirsten says:

    I agree with every single thing you’ve said here, and in regard to the low fat dressing and mayo options: they might be low fat, but they are high in sugar. Almost all manmade low fat foods are. It’s the only way to make it palatable. I can only imagine the horrid taste of this crap.

    I think the schools with breakfast and lunch programs should be required to offer wholesome whole foods only (no soft drinks, chips, or mass produced cookies, no candy–homemade would be alright) but I doubt the lunchladies would be willing to cook up stuff that isn’t already prepared and frozen, requiring only reheating, or insti-everything. I remember school lunches. There weren’t a terrible lot of truly healthy choices.

    Still, is it not better to offer something than nothing to growing kids who are learning? The brain requires fuel. It’s a proven fact that kids who don’t eat breakfast or lunch do not fare as well in school. It’s almost as bad as trying to learn when dehydrated, or going to school sick.

    • KellyK says:

      in regard to the low fat dressing and mayo options: they might be low fat, but they are high in sugar. Almost all manmade low fat foods are. It’s the only way to make it palatable. I can only imagine the horrid taste of this crap.

      Good point. When you take something that’s supposed to be fatty and make it low-fat, you’ve got to put in sugar to make it taste like *something.*

      I think the schools with breakfast and lunch programs should be required to offer wholesome whole foods only (no soft drinks, chips, or mass produced cookies, no candy–homemade would be alright) but I doubt the lunchladies would be willing to cook up stuff that isn’t already prepared and frozen, requiring only reheating, or insti-everything. I remember school lunches. There weren’t a terrible lot of truly healthy choices.

      In theory, I like the idea of made-from-scratch everything. It’d be better than a lot of the scary, greasy stuff I was served as a kid. But if that drives the cost of school lunches up, it might not be so helpful, especially when schools are having to cut their budgets.

      The really screwed up thing about that school in Chicago is that they’re telling kids they *can’t* have a homemade meal.

    • Rosa says:

      Our school breakfast program is separate from the school lunch program, funded differently, different staff, everything. So one part of that is that they only offer prepackaged food and whole fruits, they don’t use the kitchen at all.

      It’s mainly to solve the problem of kids who weren’t getting any breakfast at all, so like you said – the first thing is to make sure the kids are fed. Worry about the rest later.

      • KellyK says:

        That makes sense. Especially with a lot of cafeterias having to start lunch early to get all the kids in, having breakfast use the kitchen is probably a huge hassle.

  2. gidget commando says:

    Not to mention food allergies, food triggers, sensitivities, etc. Kids with celiac disease, or with food allergies, or whose migraine triggers are foods commonly served in the school lunch menu: what are they supposed to do, starve, suffer or die?

    Sometimes grownups really yank my chain. (And I am one.)

    • KellyK says:

      To be fair to the school, they will let kids bring a lunch from home with a doctor’s note, so kids with sensitivities would probably be okay. But that’s still an imposition on parents–it’s not like doctor’s appointments are free.

  3. Meowser says:

    When I was in high school, I remember coming home at 3:45 or so absolutely ravenous, having had lunch around 11:30. And the first thing I wanted was a sweet or fatty snack.

    Gods, YES. I went to school back in the Paleozoic Era, when there were no vending machines at school and no places to buy snacks and no time or place to eat them. I skipped breakfast because I couldn’t stomach food at 6 AM, ate my shitty, meager diet lunch at 11:30, and I was so hungry and hypoglycemic by the time I got home that I actually mixed powdered milk with chocolate syrup and ate it. Then I started in on the cereal, the cheese, the bread, just ate and ate and ate. What are they going to do next, put a tail on the kids after they leave school to make sure they’re still eating diet-munchy grub until they go to bed? I’m sure they would if they could afford it.

    • KellyK says:

      Powdered milk and chocolate syrup. That sounds gross and horrible, and yet probably awesome if you’re that hungry.

      What are they going to do next, put a tail on the kids after they leave school to make sure they’re still eating diet-munchy grub until they go to bed? I’m sure they would if they could afford it.

      Yeah, they would. Because they can’t, they just do crap like giving extra credit for weight loss and assigning food journals as homework.

  4. Mama says:

    I know I’m a little late to the conversation, but I just wanted to comment on the fact that my child isn’t supposed to have candy in his lunch but at what point do you draw the line. My kid likes very dark 80% cacao chocolate squares. Is this really worse than chocolate chip cookies, a Yoohoo, or ScoobyDoo Grahm Snacks? The wrapping on any of which look way more appealing to any 8 year old than the wrapper on a Ghiradelli dark chocolate square that is, I might add, probably way healthier than the afore mentioned foods that are commonly seen in other lunches. A small quibble I know, but just saying…..

    • KellyK says:

      That’s a totally reasonable quibble, and I love dark chocolate too. If it were up to me, kids could bring whatever their parents packed for their lunch.

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