Principal Knows Best: A Ban on Home Packed School Lunches

Lunch boxes school lunch ban Home Baked Treats

I vividly remember my mother baking cakes, cookies and other treats to take to school for birthdays and holiday parties. They were never store-bought. They were lovingly made from scratch baked goods and often topped with luscious homemade, bright white icing that was whipped into stiff shiny peaks {my mom's favorite}. But gone are the days that sugary, home baked confections are welcome in a classroom.

I suppose I can understand and go along with the reasoning for doing away with homemade Valentines' Day cupcakes, for instance, but only begrudgingly and with much muttering under my breath about the {lack of any} nutritional value of grocery store made cookies and mini cupcakes with greasy icing and store bought alternatives-to-sweet-treats rainbow "cheese" crackers and so-called "fruit" snacks that have taken the place of home baked treats.

Memories of Bygone Days

When it came to school lunches, I rarely ate in the cafeteria in grade school and junior high, but when I did it was tacos or pizza. Generally, I brown-bagged it {OK, not literally a brown bag; it was a lunch box, something cute like Hello Kitty®, Barbie® or Strawberry Shortcake®} with pb&j, turkey or tuna, chips and fruit. I'm happy to say that I made it through all of high school and college without ever eating a meal in the respective cafeterias.

I was highly selective about what I ate then and now, but the why and what of my selectiveness have changed. Then, I was not eating meat; now I am. Then and now, I won't eat food that is not aesthetically pleasing; much of the cafeteria food I have come in contact with did not look fresh or tasty, and much of the time the food was not identifiable. If I had been told I had no other choice than to eat the cafeteria food, I would have revolted.

Food Trends

I realize that my home-packed lunches may have contained some items that were not of optimal nutritional value, but for the most part, my parents did pretty well when it came serving us nutritional foods. Of course, it was also a different era. No one used the terms "organic" or "locally sourced" or "free range" in terms of food; at least no one in my neck of the woods. Baked potato chips didn't even exist yet!  {not that they're organic, local or free range}

These days many people are more conscious of nutritional choices; checking labels, opting for in-season, locally grown, less processed options. And yet, the hard truth is that processed, canned, junky foods are cheaper; and scores of people are forced to live on tight budgets and buy these cheaper, less nutritional foods for their families.

No Choices

This is unfortunate for many reasons, but it doesn't give the city, state or federal government license to ban home-packed lunches or legislate what can and cannot be brought from home in a lunch box. I'm generally not conservative in my views, but I was taken aback when I read an article about a school in Chicago that has done just that.

At the Little Village Academy, a public school on the West Side of Chicago, lunches must be bought from the cafeteria and no one is allowed to bring lunch from home with exception to those with food allergies.

I can appreciate that the school Principal is trying to ensure that the children in her charge are fed nutritional food with fewer calories, but I don't think it's the schools place to choose what a child is fed. I believe it's the parents' responsibility and right to pick what goes into the child's lunch. Alternatively, the parent has the right to choose to pay for school lunches every day, a few days a week or once a month; regardless, it's the parents' prerogative. With that said, I have a few thoughts on this subject.

Better Nutrition?

According to the Chicago Tribune article Chicago Public Schools allow the principals to decide such policies concerning meals and nutrition. After observing lunches sent from home filled with sodas and unhealthy snacks, Little Village Academy Principal, Elsa Carmona, decided that such a policy was needed to provide her students with nutritional lunches served in the cafeteria. Carmona instituted this lunch policy six years ago, but it's just recently received media attention.

The food in the cafeteria is provided by Chartwells Dining Services. Chartwells serves a large number of school districts in many states including the District of Colombia, St. Louis, MO and Chicago, IL schools. There was no discussion of the meals being offered at Little Village, and I could not find any lunch menus listed for the Chicago Public Schools, but I did find Chartwells menus for DC and St Louis schools.

The DC menus looked to be very nutritious, but not necessarily appealing to younger students; while the St. Louis menu I found was more traditional school lunch fare complete with pepperoni pizzas, nuggets and cheeseburgers, but with sides of veggies and fruit.

A Question of Money

The Chicago Tribune makes a good point that "Any school that bans homemade lunches also puts more money in the pockets of the district's food provider." Additionally, schools received federal money for the free and reduced-cost meals it serves each day.

The school is located in the Little Village community on the West Side of Chicago. The median household income of residents in that area is $32,320. A lunch at Little Village Academy costs $2.25 per day. That may not sound like much, but it adds up if you have several kids and a tight budget.

I would guess that many of the school lunches are paid by the federal government, at least in part. And it could be that many of the parents with kids enrolled at Little Village qualified for and chose the free or reduced meal option anyway; even before the home-packed lunch ban was put into place. Regardless, I think it should be left up to the parents to decide what their child eats.

The Scoop

A few schools in the Chicago area and other parts of the country don't allow for certain sugary snacks, fatty, salty and processed foods, etc. in lunches and will take them from lunch boxes if they are spotted. Will this policing of school lunches continue to spread to other schools? How do you feel about this issue?

I should add that the articles on this subject stated that it was observed that much of the food was thrown out because the kids did not like the food they were given. This begs the question: Is it better for a child to have eaten a meal, regardless of the nutritional value, rather than go hungry at school because he or she doesn't like the food offered?

On Thursday, I'll be taking an in-depth look at the recently enacted Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 {school lunch nutrition bill} and offering parents some tips on packing nutritionally balanced, interesting lunches that receive rave reviews from the kiddos and the school administration. Over and out...

Anna

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The Organic, Sustainable, Grass-Fed, All-Natural, Free-Range, Fair Trade Grocery List: What Do All These Adjectives Mean??

Family Day: The Family that Eats Together Stays off Drugs

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