Schools vs. parents: Who decides what’s for lunch?

We often talk about helping kids eat better and what role schools and parents should play in that process. Well the internet is buzzing about a public school in Chicago where the principal said kids had to buy the school lunch, assuming it would be healthier than anything they brought from home.

I’ve read multiple versions of the story and here are some facts and quotes that strike me as the most interesting:

1.       The no-sack lunch rule has been in place for six years so why is everyone just noticing it now? Where has the uproar been for six years?

2.       Another Chicago school handles it a different way – they just take junk food away from the kids and return it at the end of the day. (I think this would be an administrative nightmare for the teachers or lunchroom ladies. Can you imagine returning the food: “No! That’s my Twinkie!”)

3.       This point was made in The Chicago Tribune story:

“This is such a fundamental infringement on parental responsibility,” said J. Justin Wilson, a senior researcher at the Washington-based Center for Consumer Freedom, which is partially funded by the food industry.

“Would the school balk if the parent wanted to prepare a healthier meal?” Wilson said. “This is the perfect illustration of how the government’s one-size-fits-all mandate on nutrition fails time and time again. Some parents may want to pack a gluten-free meal for a child, and others may have no problem with a child enjoying soda.”

3. Also from The Chicago Tribune:

“For many CPS parents, the idea of forbidding home-packed lunches would be unthinkable. If their children do not qualify for free or reduced-price meals, such a policy would require them to pay $2.25 a day for food they don’t necessarily like.”

“We don’t spend anywhere close to that on my son’s daily intake of a sandwich (lovingly cut into the shape of a Star Wars ship), Goldfish crackers and milk,” education policy professor Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach wrote in an email. Her son attends Nettelhorst Elementary School in Lakeview. “Not only would mandatory school lunches worsen the dietary quality of most kids’ lunches at Nettelhorst, but it would also cost more out of pocket to most parents! There is no chance the parents would stand for that.”

4.    From AOL on just how healthy school lunches really are:

“But Susan Rubin, a nutritionist and founder of the Better School Food program, said lunches offered by large food providers like Chartwells Thompson are not necessarily more nutritious. …”

“It’s rare that I see a school, especially a public school, that actually serves food that’s good,” she told AOL News in a phone interview today. ‘I get physically sick just looking at it, because it makes me sick that kids are eating this processed crap.’ “

At our new school, I thought they were going to be much stricter about what parents could send in for snacks and lunches. Their publications say it’s supposed to whole grain and non-sugar. I was glad they were setting the bar high, but when I visit the cafeteria I don’t see that many people sticking to it.

I do think that our new school serves far less sweets at school parties. I can’t decide if it’s because this community is pretty health focused. (The school is right next to the Y and everyone works out. All the ladies are in shape!) Or if it’s because the parties are just smaller and more focused on activity rather than food here. Walsh’s winter holiday party was held outdoors and consisted of playing running games. The kids had a great time and there wasn’t a sugar cookie in sight. Rose’s party had literally one cookie for each kid and that was it. In Gwinnett the school parties were far more elaborate and the food usually included several sweets.

So what do you make of the Chicago controversy? Can a public school tell parents they can’t send in lunch? What would you do if your school made this rule?

How does your school handle junk food? If they bring it, it’s theirs? Do they request only healthy snacks? What about school parties?
– Theresa Walsh Giarrusso, ajc.com Momania

153 comments Add your comment

Deb

April 11th, 2011
9:38 pm

I saw this tonight and thought of emailing it to you TWG. Emily would starve if I couldn’t send her with a homemade lunch. Some schools I see are taking out chocolate milk too. If my children can’t have chocolate milk they will just drink water. As for school partys in Emily’s class the school has said only healthy treats which is totally different than Olathe where they had tons of treats.

Paul

April 11th, 2011
10:01 pm

I’d be surprised if the Chicago Tribune got the story right. I suspect the system, if it’s been going on for 6 years, is more flexible than indicated. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the principal’s response in a day or two.

[...] post by steaksyl and software by Elliott Back No Comments [...]

Jenni Hilton

April 11th, 2011
10:03 pm

The schools need to work with the families. there are many reasons for not buying food like food allergies and parents who want to ensure that they know what their children will eat for nutritional guidelines. It is too complicated to address easily in one column. don’t get me started on the peanut commission and how they block other allergy friendly vendors from trying to come into the schools. politics sucks.

Eric

April 11th, 2011
10:31 pm

“Those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience,” -CS Lewis

I am more moderate than far right or left, but I tell you these far left liberals and their policies scare the hell out of me. They are truly a danger to our society and a nasty breed indeed. While viewing comments on various boards, the ones from the liberal camp are so much more mean spirited and nasty. 1984 anyone?

Eric

Hummon

April 11th, 2011
11:03 pm

Far less concerned about lunches than about the routine use of candy as a reward in classrooms. I wouldn’t mind a little nanny state interventionism on that one.

K-Baby

April 11th, 2011
11:38 pm

This is just another example of how elitist liberals try to force a change in behavior by mandating policies that they think are better for the common masses. If an administrator or teacher took my child’s gluten and dairy free lunch (due to my child’s food allergies), I would promptly demand that it never happen again and press charges if it did.

The government better get it straight that the parent is sovereign when it comes to their kids. Period.

say what?

April 11th, 2011
11:49 pm

K-Baby, I did not realize that elitest liberals were the only ones in power. Geesh, it is enough nonsense going on in communities and politics for both sides or if you are on the sidelines.

This is simply the government taking the role of parent and /or guardian for the majority of students who lack parent engagement/involvement. If no one speaks on behalf of the children, then the wacky parents who are speaking up will get their agendas pushed.

Why would anyone press charges(use of government once again)to settle something that could be dealt with between adults? Poor use of government- if we stop turning to the boogeyman government, then we can demand that it decrease in size.

My kids eat what my paycheck can afford. If I do not send a meal, and do not send money, the government school officials gives my kids a pbj and water, in a brown paper sack. The hypocrisy.

David

April 12th, 2011
12:12 am

The parents should be able to send their kids to school with a Snickers some Pixie Stix and a 20oz Coke to wash it down.
The child may be relegated to rabbit food and free range turkey eggs for 90% of their diet at the home. Who know? And why does anyone have a right to know?
If the child is healthy, the govt needs to stay out it.

vee

April 12th, 2011
12:39 am

david, the kids at my school do come with lunches similar to “a snickers some pixie stix and a 20 oz coke” plus they get their free lunch. they eat a few bites of the healthier school lunch, eat their goodies from home and then throw away good quality fresh fruit, protein, dairy, etc. that you and i both pay for with our taxes. i would support taking their goodies away til they head out to the bus.

David

April 12th, 2011
1:42 am

vee, if they can afford to bring the crap in a bag, they can afford decent food in a bag. Therefor they should not be getting a free lunch.

Larry

April 12th, 2011
4:03 am

Solution: A private school where the parents have a say in and can influence everything and anyone can be terminated at a moment’s notice for poor work.

And before you say you can’t afford it, there is no greater investment than that of your children. So, sell the new car, spend your money more wisely, and live in a tent if you have to–for your children! You will NEVER regret this sacrifice (investment to me)!

You’ll never have to worry about your daughter sitting in front of a degenerate in her classroom who is always trying to pinch her rear while proudly wearing his pants with the waistline somewhere between his thighs and knees.

elvalenz

April 12th, 2011
4:51 am

Interesting News! I just now printed Coupons of my Favorite Brands and saved!! search “printapons” online and save instantly, it is free

ifyouonlyknew

April 12th, 2011
6:26 am

If you want to research a scam…check out how easy it is to apply for and get free lunch in Dekalb Cty. I turn in applications every year that state income: 0, dependents:5. One mother was irate that she had to get to her new job and did not have time to fill out any more papers..except for the free lunch form, with 0 income. If a student pays reduced prices and has money on their acct. Daily they are asked would they like an ice cream ? The ice cream profits are strictly for the cafeteria, it does not go back into the school itself.

gtmom

April 12th, 2011
6:33 am

While I would not want the school/government involved in the selecting lunch for my child, I can see the benefit of this. I have seen first hand at my child’s school, lunches parents have sent; Colored flavored sugar water (”Jugs”), hot fries, candy.. etc. I have no problem with kids eating this on their own time with their parent’s consent. The problem I have is when they send this meal with these kids to school and teachers have to take care of the behavior problems that follow. I see these kids high on sugar and they are disrupting the classroom. This makes the teacher’s job more difficult and the rest of the class suffers.

motherjanegoose

April 12th, 2011
7:05 am

HAHA….David…you need to do a bit of research on FREE lunch. This is one of my hot issues.
I do not think anyone should be hungry at school. Children need to eat! Some children have lunch provided with my tax dollars, when other things at thier home are things my dollars cannot afford and we do not have.

Cory

April 12th, 2011
7:17 am

This is typical of what the American society is turning into, a complete nanny state that takes the decisions away from the parents and gives it to the state, undermining the authority of the parent to raise the child as they see fit.

shaggy

April 12th, 2011
7:41 am

The American sense of pride is a vanishing concept. It used to be that taking charity from the government or anywhere else was an act of desperation and a temporary one. Now, many want cradle to grave care, paid for by someone else, anyone else but them. Their choices to be lazy or mediocre at best are encouraged by acceptance and encouragement to be so by a society that rewards this behavior.

Sadly, it goes like this, and is generational: “Give me my 5 baby’s free lunch, food stamps, free rent, and free health care, so I can have my smart phone, big screen TV, cable, and shiny wheels for my ride. I can vote, so give me what I want, and you find some way to pay for it.”

DB

April 12th, 2011
8:42 am

My kids’ school didn’t allow them to bring lunch from home, unless there were some severe dietary restrictions the cafeteria couldn’t handle. Otherwise, if you couldn’t find something from the hot meal offerings (a choice of two entrees, several veggies, etc.), from the salad bar, from the soup bar or from the sandwich bar — you were too picky for words. The ice cream chest was opened during the last half of lunch. The food was prepared by a professional staff that did a great job — they even catered other events that people happily attended and enjoyed. I think I may have packed three lunches in fifteen years.

jarvis

April 12th, 2011
8:59 am

The government has no say in the way I raise my children…..period.

PMC

April 12th, 2011
9:31 am

If you value your rights…. pull your kid from that school.

Ralph

April 12th, 2011
9:32 am

We did it both ways with our kids. When they were willing to pack a lunch, the food we provided was generally both more nutritious and more economical than the school lunches.

Rik Roberts

April 12th, 2011
9:32 am

I think the underlying issue here is really one of class. I read that 85% of the kids get free or reduced lunch. This is probably more about those kids not being made to feel bad because the other kids have better homemade lunches.

Superman

April 12th, 2011
9:36 am

Jarvis… the government does have some say in the way you raise your children… or is it OK to tattoo your kids, molest them, etc…. the tricky part is deciding where that line is.

Patrick

April 12th, 2011
9:37 am

Just another step towards the government having full control over your lives, and indoctrinating our children into being obedient little government drones. Karl Marx would be proud.

The school has no right in telling what a parent can and cannot give to their child to eat for lunch. Like many have already pointed out, what about food allergies? What if the child is on a restricted diet due to said allergies, or other health/medical conditions? I remember all of my schools’ lunches being loaded with carbs and starches. Sure, it gave us energy, but what if (A) you had P.E. *before* lunch, and (B), your child’s school doesn’t allot for recess time? Those carbs break down into sugars, which become fat, making children obese, and bringing on juvenile diabetes. That’s another thing: what if your child was diagnosed with diabetes from an early age, and is on a restricted diet? Can’t send little Jenny to school with a sandwich made with sugar-free peanut butter on gluten-free bread, some carrot sticks, and a box of sugar-free apple juice, or give her 50 cents for a carton of milk.

Jeff W

April 12th, 2011
9:40 am

Now, now folks, quit your complaining. Uncle Obama knows best…

Solve the Problems

April 12th, 2011
9:42 am

Just another invasion of the parents rights. I can say that any peanut butter sandwich, apple and yogert is much healthier then the lunch of dryed out pizza or the salted mess they serve on a daily basis.

Gretchen

April 12th, 2011
9:42 am

“My kids eat what my paycheck can afford. If I do not send a meal, and do not send money, the government school officials gives my kids a pbj and water, in a brown paper sack. The hypocrisy.”

Ok, I have to point out that you have sent your child to school with no meal and no money, and expected that child to be fed (even if it was a pbj and water —which I doubt) at no cost to you.

Does this bother anyone else?!

Cathy

April 12th, 2011
9:42 am

Just exactly when was the LAST time you ate a school lunch?? My son is in 5th grade in Cobb County, and my husband goes once a month to “eat” lunch with him. The food is disgusting. The kids throw away over half of their “nutritious” lunch. It is a waste of money.

JOD

April 12th, 2011
9:43 am

Speaking as a GA public school graduate, I can tell you the lunch room food was garbage, and any lunch my mom (or I) would have packed was better. Even the most basic lunch of sandwich, carrots, cracker or chips is considerably better than the chicken nugget/fish stick/pizza mess at most schools. I’m sure there are some schools that get it right, but even so, why restrict parents from sending a lunch? Nanny state at it’s best. What’s next? Requiring unbleached hemp underwear and vegan shoes?

James

April 12th, 2011
9:43 am

Just another liberal trying to take away liberty.

Sara

April 12th, 2011
9:43 am

I pack my daughter a far healthier lunch than she could get on a daily basis in the school cafeteria. I let her buy her lunch at school on Fridays as a kind of special treat because she thinks chicken nuggets and fries are a great meal. Otherwise, I think her pb and j on wheat, fruit, yogurt, and a water bottle to fill up are far healthier for her, and I would be pissed if someone tried to tell me I didn’t have that option.

uhhh

April 12th, 2011
9:45 am

chicago is broke. what better way to raise money than to force parents to buy a meal for $2 that costs $0.50 to make. consider the chicago school systems have tens of thousands of kids, that money will go nicely into paying for more public sector union jobs and six figure administrative jobs.

uncle obobo knows best.

uhhh

April 12th, 2011
9:46 am

this isnt about control. if the school system gave a cr$p about the kids, they would dissolve and start over. this is about revenue, pure and simple.

Sam

April 12th, 2011
9:48 am

So, the “government” can’ tell your kid what to eat, but they can confiscate a percentage of your income and your wealth. One way or the other. Nanny state or no nanny state. Income tax or no income tax. Forced lunch or no forced lunch.

Kat

April 12th, 2011
9:48 am

This has been a pet peeve of mine for years. School lunches look nutritious on paper only. The reality is that they consist of starch, grease, sodium, refined carbs, and are overprocessed. Any nutritional value they may have had to begin with is destroyed by overcooking, reheating, etc.

I have been in school lunch rooms where I couldn’t even identify what the kids were eating. I have seen with my own eyes lunchroom workers pouring pitchers of hot water into a tub of soup to make it feed more when it looked like they might run out.

And there is no “choice” in public schools at the elementary level. It is simply slopped on the plate and the choice is “take it or leave it”.

Packing lunches is the bane of my existence, especially this time of year when I’m running out of ideas and running out of steam. But I do it. Every. Single. Day. It’s both healthier for my kids AND cheaper. If their school tried to tell me I couldn’t, I hate to think how I’d react!

justmy2cents

April 12th, 2011
9:49 am

I say take government out of lunch. Take school lunches away; make the parent send in a lunch for their child. Yes, I know for some children that is their only meal of the day, but that is not my responsibility. If you can’t afford them, quit having them! Parents needs to prioritize better! More than likely, they are not only receiving free/reduced lunch, but other government benefits as well. Learn to budget!!!

My girls pack their lunch- typically a reduced sodium ham, provolone cheese on whole wheat, fruit, something like sunchips, and a granola bar w/ another serving of fruit for snack. They take water flavoring packets (sugar free).

The only decent meals I see in the cafeteria are the baked chicken day, and the salads.

The Nerd

April 12th, 2011
9:49 am

If you ask me, the food at the cafeterias at the 3 level schools (elementary, middle and high) really stinks before the nutritional standards are met, and it became worst ever since.

arlene

April 12th, 2011
9:49 am

If a child brings food from home,he or she should not be entitled to food from the school. Parents should monitor the contents of their children’s lunch bags. It isn’t up to the school to make school-purchased lunches mandatory; some parents can’t afford them, especially those with several children.

justmy2cents

April 12th, 2011
9:51 am

parents need, not needs…my bad!

catlady

April 12th, 2011
9:52 am

I believe this is a school with a very high free lunch proportion. I would guess that bringing food from home is a no-starter.

While I don’t think highly of the lunches we get (salt, fat, breading, processing), I have seen some really awful, plastic junk lunches sent from home for our middle class kids. Luckily they are only about 10% of the lunches, as 75% of our kids get free lunch. They have some choices, which we did not have in the old days.

There is a cross blog on this with Get Schooled, BTW,

Kat

April 12th, 2011
9:53 am

I would love to see an independent analysis of a typical school lunch. This would be a great idea for an AJC expose: take a sampling of school lunches to a lab and have them analyzed for nutritional value, then compare the results to what the school nutritionist calims is in there.

melanie

April 12th, 2011
9:54 am

What about the children who are allergic to wheat, eggs, dairy? These allergies are severe in some children. Where I work in a private pre-school, we serve fresh fruits, wheat breads & cereals, low sugar, no juice & the children who are allergic to these foods are able to bring in their own meals but by Ga. state law, we have to have a Doctors note stating that the child is allergic. How can a school MAKE you buy a lunch; what if you can’t afford the school lunch but do not qualify for assistance? This is just bad all the way around. Children should be able to bring their lunches & eat what ever the parents pack; if they pack junk food that is their right to do so. I think this is just an attempt for the government to further take over our personal lives….I hope Chicago schools get enough bad publicity from this & parents start to stick up for their rights & the rights of the children. They are there to teach our children, not tell us what we can & cannot eat!!

Eric

April 12th, 2011
9:55 am

Okay people…I have very little to say about this subject except…maybe if more of you were required to eat a healthy nutritional meal at school, you would have had a better education and could form coherent and complete sentences. So many on here are in uproar over the government mandating how you feed your children, but you can’t even spell the words correctly, or put them together in a manner that resembles English. Stop complaining and go back to school, maybe then you can make a little more money, move to a better school district and feed your kids what you want, until then, stop moaning and get a grip on the English language. Really…you are supposed to set the example for your children…not perpetuate a cycle of disfunction.

John

April 12th, 2011
9:56 am

Oh, my! I just wouldnt know what to do without my government!! Wow, thanks.

Michael

April 12th, 2011
9:57 am

It’s Chicago. Just follow the money.

Geez

April 12th, 2011
9:57 am

@James . . . and your money

KnowBetter

April 12th, 2011
9:59 am

How naive can you all get! Have you tried to bring your own booze to an establishment (bar, restaurant, etc.) where liquor is sold? You’re taking their profit away by bringing your own!!!

Rhonda

April 12th, 2011
10:00 am

My child is in middle school and she and her peers always complain about how bad the food is the cafeteria. They would rather skip lunch than to eat the food. I agree that there should be a limit on products high in sugar but it’s still a choice of the parent whether or not they choose to allow their children to eat the school lunch or send a lunch to school.

GeorgiaBorn

April 12th, 2011
10:00 am

I find it humorous that some of you play the liberal card here. This was the principal’s policy that she set over 6 years ago. How the “H” do any of you know her political affiliation? This has nothing to do with politics, or government decisions. This was the principal’s decision for one school! I might also point out that over 85% of the children in this particular school qualify for the free lunch program, so with the principal’s decision combined with the new Healthy Kids Act, this school will now receive federal funding to help offset some of the cost for providing free NUTRITIONAL lunches for over 85% of it’s students. No, I don’t necessarily agree with anyone telling me how to raise my child, but this decision by the principal was first based solely on nutrition but now because of the new federal bill, it is also fiscally responsible and good for the school.