Why You Should Care About School Lunch Programs

October 14 to 16 is National School Lunch Week. Before you click to another web page while thinking, “that’s nice but why do we need a national week for that,” consider these facts and a few controversies:

1. More than 16 million children in the United States are at risk of hunger.

2. One in five children in the United States struggles to get nutritious food.

3. 20.1 million children in the United States rely on food stamps (that’s about half of the more than 40 million people who receive them).

4. 10.6 million kids who are eligible for a free or reduced-price school lunch do not receive one.

Established in 1946, the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) has played a key role in fighting childhood hunger in the United States. Every day, 30.5 million children receive a school lunch at a cost of $8.7 billion. The NSLP provides low-cost or free school lunch meals that are nutritionally balanced to qualifying students through subsidies to schools.

School Lunch Program Controversies: Yes, They Tried To Call Ketchup a Vegetable

The NSLP was at first created to absorb farm surpluses and maintain food prices as well as to feed school children. The program has also found itself at the center of more controversy then you could shake a slice of mystery meat at.

A recurring issue has been food safety: a 2009 report charged that fast food restaurants had more rigorous inspection standards for beef and chicken than the school lunch program did. Last year, after reports that students were bring served a processed beef product popularly known as “pink slime,” many education officials found themselves rushing to defend why they were serving this cheaper “meat” to thousands of children.

In 2011, the Obama administration’s attempt to have 1/8 of a cup of tomato paste no longer considered nutritionally equivalent to a 1/2 cup of vegetables but to an 1/8 of a cup of vegetables turned into a brouhaha. After Congress passed a bill blocking the change, some claimed that lobbyists representing pizza and cheese manufacturers — fearful that schools would say their foods were of lower nutritional value and cease to buy them– were pressuring politicians.

Yes, School Lunch Programs Are Needed

These controversies — and don’t forget the proposal during the early years of the Reagan Administration to count relish and ketchup as vegetables — show why school lunches are a topic of huge concern from a political as well as a public health standpoint. Manufacturers vie to win contracts for school lunches, aware of the profits to be made. Educational officials often seem to be more worried about serving the minimum amount of food to meet nutritional standards (and fit their budgets) than to provide healthy meals for students.

School lunch programs not only fight childhood hunger, but also give many kids a chance to eat what might their only nutritious meal of the day. Newly implemented U.S. school lunch standards that limit calories and sodium and call for more fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains have received some negative publicity, about kids throwing out their apple slices and school districts opting out of the program. While whole wheat bread may not be a preferred food for many kids, the school lunch program offers a model of good nutrition at a time when reports about childhood obesitydiabetes and other health concerns have become frequent and fast food is ubiquitous.

Many of us have unpleasant memories of school lunches in cafeterias with sticky tables and lunch monitors blowing their whistles. There’s a simple reason that one feels a bit of envy about the free school lunches in Finland and Sweden and the made-from-scratch meals that Japanese children get. Kids are growing and they need good, healthy, regular meals to help them learn. I can tell you, if I ever forgot to pack my son‘s lunchbox, I’d have to race up to his school to make sure he had it in time.

Photo from Thinkstock


J C Bro
J C Brou4 years ago

there is money for weapons of mass destruction, but not enough money for food [and health care] for the young. wow

Joseph Belisle
Joseph Belisle4 years ago

It seems that if conservatives/Republicans can't kill something that benefits the people then they have to pervert it.
While in childhood years my family relied on the school lunch program. Often it wasn't very attractive but it was food. We shouldn't be so mentally and morally sick as to not have this program and to not make this program the best it can be.
Imagine, the US a place where people come first. I can almost imagine it. Almost.

Anne G.
Anne G4 years ago

Good article, unfortunately a rather stupid picture. School lunches should be cooked on the premises and it wouldn't hurt for the kids to help and that way learn about nutrition. Of course in very large schools this would be difficult, but it is possible. The amount of money spent on ridiculous things could go a long way to feeding and educating the young. They are our future.

A F.
Athena F4 years ago

So many children need this! And as far as bread, jelly and peanut butter..seriously? Every day? The kid would die of malnutrition. Kids need veggies, fruit, etc. etc. They need healthy foods in order for their brains to grow and function properly. If every poor person is forced to feed their kid nothing but some crappy cheap bread (no nutritional value, may as well feed them glue), jelly (mostly sugar or corn syrup if it's the cheap stuff) and peanut butter (again, the cheap stuff is chock full of all kinds of sugar and crap), they won't be able to think properly. How do they have a chance at a decent education?

Also, as craptastic as that is? It's actually still more than many families can afford. If you don't know this, you haven't experienced it for yourself. I can assure you, it happens, and all too often.

Fi T.
Past Member 4 years ago

For the health of the next generation

Karen Chestney
Karen Chestney4 years ago

Thank-you for "running" this article !!! Every child should have a GOOD ---HEALTHY---WELL BALANCED lunch !!! If your child does not want school lunch--and you can afford it---pack one. BUT way too many children can not "bring" a lunch. There are too many " HUNGRY" children in this country. We need to STOP wasting food and FEED our children. Come on America----We are better than this !!!

Julie D.
Julie D4 years ago

It is unconscionable that any child should have to go hungry in our country. It is hard to pay attention to your studies when your tummy is growling and hurting because you are hungry. for some children the school lunch is the only meal they get for the day and they go hungry on weekends. I am sickened by the amounts of money we spend on subsidies to big oil and big ag and other major corporations who are already making billions of dollars in profits and do not need more of our money. Our children are our future, who knows what great things they may be able to accomplish? And they are innocents who should never be made to suffer because of the greed and selfishness of our corrupt government and greedy corporations. Meals on Wheels for our elderly is another program that should always be funded and kept in place. There is so much waste in government spending, but these are not the things that are wasteful, these are the things we should be spending our money for.

Norma Villarreal
Norma Villarreal4 years ago

Any politicians who claim our children come first and vote down beneficial legislation for young ones are basically liars.

Deborah J.
Deborah J4 years ago

While I agree strongly with what Bryna P. and Miranda L. wrote, other comments express real problems, even criticism. This is a baby I wouldn't throw out with the proverbial bathwater. How can deprived children get a level playing field to overcome their deficiencies early enough in life so they have a fair shot at adulthood and a good chance to get out of poverty?

One thing I believe: the vast budgets and commercial enterprises peddling fast food and junk food are targeting low-income consumers along with all their potential markets. If and when we care enough as a society to find and promote solutions to feeding needy children and ensuring affordable health care for all - we might raise quality of life all around, rather than the standard of living for the "haves" who want to stay on top and Devil take the hindmost.

B J.
BJ J4 years ago

But wait, let's keep sending $$ to other countries (who hate us) to feed their starving kids & forget the ones in our own back yard.