Chicago School Outlaws Homemade Lunches

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


Deandrea Smith
Deandrea Smith5 years ago

My son would most likely eat a healthy lunch if I packed it rather than eat cafeteria food. He is in middle school and usually packs his own lunch. We never buy white bread so its usually a turkey sandwhich on wheat. When we have apples available, he takes one every day, mostly because he loves fruit and will also pack fresh carrots because he'd rather eat them raw over cooked. He's very opinionated and outspoken so if there is anything that we've brought home from the grocery store that he doesn't like, he will definitely let us know in more ways than one lol. Don't even think about putting it in his lunch bag!!!! He will bring the bag back with whatever it is that he does not like.

Catherine A.
Cat A6 years ago

The government menu at school is remanufactured foods that are fortified. I cannot imagine an entity telling me how to feed my children....

jane richmond
jane richmond6 years ago

Let the best lunch win!

Sarah M.
Sarah M6 years ago

The best intentions don't always have good results. They really didn't think this through. First off, it would be best if the meals were free for all students if they are doing to outlaw bag lunches (which they really shouldn't). The kids have to eat something. Also, this is a blatant disregard for common rights--Way to go!

Judith Howard
Judith Howard6 years ago

While most kids don't eat the healthiest, they should be allowed to brown bag it. A school doesn't have the right to dictate that kids can't bring their own lunch. For students who do buy their lunches, the schools should offer their students healthier food.

I think there's more to this story.

Carole L.
Carole L6 years ago

Well I agree that many kids need to improve their eating habits. I don't know that eating the school lunch is the right answer. I haven't been impressed by the lunches served at my daughter's school, ie. turkey corn dogs, pizza, cheese burgers, chicken fingers...

Heather B.
Heather B6 years ago

Thank Goodness I homeschool my children....I know what their eating and where it came from, often grown myself.
I really don't believe that ANY school could live up to my standards for Organic Vegetarian food.

Sheri P.
Sheri P6 years ago

That's ridiculous! Kids should be allowed to bring lunch from home. Not everyone can afford to pay for lunch and most often lunch from home is more healthful than school lunch. What's even crazier is that the kids end up throwing away their lunch! What a waste on so many levels!

Manuela B.
Manuela B6 years ago

This is crazy. who has the right to stop children bringing school lunch from home....not everyone can afford to buy their lunch. in my day that was a luxury. and what's wrong with the lunch I pack for my child??? who is the school to tell me that what i give is bad??? I'll bet the school canteens are making their money.....THROUGH FORCE.

Alice H.
Alice H6 years ago

I loved school lunches although I ate at home most of the way though high school and children should not be encouraged to eat junk food
a no lunch from home policy seems an inappropriate way to address the problem.