As More Lunches Get Tossed, How Do We Fix the School Lunch Problem?

Tossing the school lunches of children whose accounts are in the black isn’t just a problem in Utah anymore. As more states begin to look into how their schools deal with paid or reduced-price lunches in their systems, it’s becoming apparent that what originally looked like a few isolated bad decisions may in actuality be a widespread policy. The question is: How can we end it?

When a Salt Lake City school nutrition manager threw away the lunches of a few dozen school kids who didn’t learn until they reached the cash register that they didn’t have the money in their accounts to pay for their purchases, the outrage went national. The actions aren’t a one off misunderstanding, however. A report out of Minnesota shows that such events are happening with regularity in the state’s own schools, and it’s becoming a growing problem.

According to a survey conducted by Legal Aid in Minnesota, a majority of schools in the state will deny a hot lunch to a child who does not have a positive lunch account. Some do toss lunches if they aren’t able to identify delinquent accounts ahead of purchase. Some of those kids will get bread and butter or maybe a cheese sandwich, while others will receive nothing. Some will also get stamped on their hands with “lunch” or “money,” a literal mark of shame to take home to their parents.

Some schools report that they are just as bothered by this tossing of food for non-payment as the rest of the country, but for very different reasons. “Lunch trays will be pulled from a student if there is not enough money in the account,” officials in Anoka County’s St. Francis School District wrote in a notice to parents of students in grades six through 12, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “We do not enjoy pulling trays from students and it slows the lines for other students trying to get through.”

Yes, slow lunch lines are definitely the big issue to be concerned about.

According to the Star Tribune, many of the lunches tossed are from children who are already receiving subsidized lunches, meaning that they are being denied a hot lunch due to a shortfall of as little as 40 cents. For children on reduced-cost lunches, that could have been the sole source of a balanced meal for the day.

The Minnesota legislature is considering addressing the issue by passing a bill that will fully fund lunch for all reduced-priced lunch participants, which is expected to cost about $3.35 million. It was a proposal that was introduced and failed during the 2013 session.

The Minnesota solution is a positive step, but is it enough? That’s a question being asked in a number of states, where ensuring children have access to food is becoming a meaningful priority. In Maine, a new law will allow schools in poor areas to offer a summer nutrition program from students who have subsidized for free lunches, a change that will allow many lower income children to have adequate nutritional needs met through all 12 months of the year, not just the nine months that school is in session. The bill was vetoed by Republican Gov. Paul LePage, but the veto was overridden.

Meanwhile, a number of cities are offering free lunches to all students, regardless of the family’s income or if they qualify for a subsidy. Boston, Chicago, Atlanta and others have already begun the program, and it’s one that many who would like to see child hunger reduced are cheering for. By offering it for everyone, it encourages good, nutritious food for all students as well as reduces the stigma involved in the reduced and free lunch programs.

Can this spread to a national mandate? Let’s hope. School lunches are for eating, not tossing.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Michelle Spradley

These schools seem to lack a few things: Compassion, common sense and a system for informing parents that their child's lunch account is empty.

Gloria picchetti
Gloria picchetti4 years ago

Either all the students eat or no one eats. They are children not political puppets.

Nils Anders Lunde
PlsNoMessage se4 years ago


Helen Krummenacker

The schools don't save any money by taking meals away from children. We need a better way to treat students.

Trina Hawkins
Trina Hawkins4 years ago

This is a DAMN SHAME ! To with hold food from a Child is a CRIME ! How do We as adults expect a Child to grow and learn without food ? As usual take it out on the Weakest of our society ! WHY do this ? It's always the OLD,Very Young,Disabled,Poor,that have to SUFFER ! What kind of lesson is this for a Nation with Plenty of Food that is Wasted every day ? It's INSANE ! Every Child should be FED FREE of charge ! We already Pay fees for School,books,and other supplies! If a Child has to be in school all day ,from 8 am until 3 pm,then their meals should be included FREE of charge ! No ifs and or buts about it ! Change the Laws ! :(

Karen R.
Karen Ryan4 years ago

When my kids were in middle school my husband walked out. My sons qualified for reduced price lunches, but they would not get them because they would have to pay with a different colored ticket than their friends and they were embarrassed. I really needed them to get those lunches, and it hurt that the school would let the reduced price kids be humiliated. My kids saw how the reduced lunch kids were treated and didn't want the shame. That was twenty years ago. We can't change that there will always be financially struggling parents and hungry kids, but we can change how we stigmatize the havenots in the lunchroom.

JL A4 years ago

My heart breaks for all children shamed or forced to go hungry

Rhonda Bird
Rhonda B4 years ago

Shaming children is wrong!

Mary B.
Mary B4 years ago

There is no problem if it were illegal to refuse any child in a public school a decent lunch. Ask for donations from those who have higher incomes, but do not waste food of let kids go hungry. This school lunch should be totally funded by the government directly since it's one of the few ways currency even gets down into mainstreet economy.Money should be put into circulation where the work is done, let it bubble up, instead of us waiting for a few crumbs to trickle down while we fight over scraps and make children the victims. What horrible people some have become because of the way our present economy is run.

Jennifer H.
Jennifer H4 years ago

It sure seems like several people are OK with kids going hungry and blaiming parents for being irresponsible for having them. I don't understand this. Why is politics being brought into the hunger games? Children should not be intentionally left hungry,,,, when food is available. I don't care what the circumstances are. Why punish the kids. For all we know those kids only get fed at school and live in hell at home. Or maybe both parents are working yet still can't make it work on minimum wage. Or they lost their jobs (a novel thought in this day, eh). Who can PLAN for that. People are saying if you can't afford to support them then don't have them.... Then, give women back their rights and give back access to birth control.... How many men are gonna tolerate a celibate lifestyle because they "can't afford kids". NONE.

I have never had kids; Never wanted kids. But I HAD THAT OPTION. Many women don't.