At a public middle school in Chicago, Little Village Academy, students are not allowed to bring lunch from home. It’s a policy set by Principal Elsa Carmona to “protect students from their own unhealthful food choices” and devised after she saw students brining soda and “flaming hot chips” to lunch on a field trip. Only students who have a medical excuse or allergies are allowed to bring their own lunch.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Carmona says that her “no homemade lunch” policy is “fairly common.” It is not very popular with students, many of whom, it is noted, dump most of their cafeteria-made lunch in the trash.
You can put whole wheat bread on the lunch tray, but you can’t make ‘em eat it, right?
Carmona emphasizes that good nutrition is the motivation for her policy. However, if parents do not qualify for free or reduced-price meals, having to spend $2.25 a day for their child’s lunch can be a burden. As the Chicago Tribune also points out:
Any school that bans homemade lunches also puts more money in the pockets of the district’s food provider, Chartwells-Thompson. The federal government pays the district for each free or reduced-price lunch taken, and the caterer receives a set fee from the district per lunch.
Parents have expressed varying views about the no brown-bagging it policy:
At Little Village, most students must take the meals served in the cafeteria or go hungry or both. During a recent visit to the school, dozens of students took the lunch but threw most of it in the garbage uneaten. Though CPS has improved the nutritional quality of its meals this year, it also has seen a drop-off in meal participation among students, many of whom say the food tastes bad.
“Some of the kids don’t like the food they give at our school for lunch or breakfast,” said Little Village parent Erica Martinez. “So it would be a good idea if they could bring their lunch so they could at least eat something.”
“(My grandson) is really picky about what he eats,” said Anna Torrez, who was picking up the boy from school. “I think they should be able to bring their lunch. Other schools let them. But at this school, they don’t.”
My son Charlie is also extremely picky about what he eats. If he doesn’t like the food offerings available, he just doesn’t eat. Being autistic and not very verbal, he does not say that he is hungry after going lunchless; any discomfort would be expressed in terms of some behavior or other. As a teenager and a very active one, Charlie likes and needs to eat a lot, so we err on the side of providing him with things he like to eat rather than hoping he might eat the cafeteria food at his autism school. (He doesn’t; his teachers have tried.)
Consequently, I spend a bit of time every night cooking rice and chopping fruit and figuring out what else to put in Charlie’s two lunchboxes (he is not a breakfast eater but is often starving by mid-morning, so one lunchbox contains a snack). Frankly, it would be a lot easier to just send in some money for him to buy lunch and there’d be no sticky lunchboxes and containers to wipe down. If Charlie were a student at the Little Village Academy, we would have to seek out a medical or some other excuse.
Lest you think this is all just a tempest in a lunchbox, the ‘no homemade lunch’ policy and the concerns about how to get kids to eat healthfully echo, as the Chicago Tribune notes, a “larger national debate about the role government should play in individual food choices.” Given the national obesity epidemic, educators who are trying to help students develop healthy eating habits are thinking that, indeed, in a healthy body is a healthy mind.
Would your child eat a healthy lunch if you packed it, or (not that your child might tell you) would the lunch end up in the garbage?
Photo by USDAgov