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.