The lunch money surprise: Is one child buying too much?

My friend received an email that one of her children’s lunch accounts was underfunded. She was surprised because she put the same amount of money in each student’s account and didn’t receive notices from the other accounts. So she started investigating. It turns out the one child was buying breakfast each morning at school – even she was eating a small breakfast at home. She was also buying ice cream and other additions at lunchtime.

Walsh was doing something similar two years ago in second grade. His account was being spent at double the rate of Rose’s and it turned out that he was buying two lunches a day. He wasn’t eating two helping of the vegetables, just two helping of hot dogs.

At our old school in Gwinnett you could limit the child to just one lunch or just one ice cream a day or just one ice cream a week. With that particular lunch account here, I couldn’t limit the child to just one lunch a day.  So the next year everyone started bringing their lunches. No more arguing over how much he could buy.

Have you ever been surprised by how much your child was buying from the school cafeteria? How did you limit it? How did you find out?

40 comments Add your comment


September 26th, 2012
7:19 am

My kid was eating breakfast in the cafeteria after eating breakfast at home. The funny thing…She was buying cereal. Her dad works for a cereal company ( lots of cereal at home)

Atlanta Mom

September 26th, 2012
7:25 am

One of my daughters wanted to buy breakfast at school. That was the only way she could get sweet cereal. It didn’t last long.
Otherwise, my children wouldn’t eat school lunches. They always took their lunches from home. Once a week, if they remembered to ask, I would give them ice cream money.

Voice of Reason

September 26th, 2012
7:36 am

You know I cannot fathom how on earth Americans got so fat until I read that they now serve ice cream in elementary and middle school.

I was in East Cobb elementary and middle schools from 1983 – 1991 and the only “dessert” I can remember them offering was chocolate milk, as opposed to whole white milk. I think at some point they even added in skim milk. But I digress…..

And no one that I can remember ate two lunches, maybe because you just didn’t have enough time and once you sat down, you were not allowed to leave your seat until the teacher dismissed you.

Wow, even back in my dark ages of school (1968-71)...

September 26th, 2012
7:53 am

…in Dekalb County, you could buy a regular lunch (one hot dog plus other stuff, for 35 cents), a double lunch (meant you got 2 hot dogs, for 50 cents), or a jumbo lunch (2 hot dogs plus ice cream, for 75 cents)…can’t believe in AZ they make them buy 2 whole lunches just to get an extra hot dog…


September 26th, 2012
8:15 am

My kids get breakfast at home, and pack their own lunches. They hate the school lunches, and they refuse to stand in line for food, using up their entire lunch period. So they pack a bag lunch at home. Which I prefer anyway, as we pack healthier lunches than the school can provide.

And they go off to school with full bellies. I couldn’t stand the thought of sending my kids to school on an empty stomach. So I make breakfast every morning. Sometimes it’s full on breakfast, eggs, bacon, hashbrowns, etc. and sometimes it’s just a bowl of oatmeal/cereal.


September 26th, 2012
8:24 am

My son’s lunch account has become another grocery bill. Now that he’s in high school, he’s spending about $5.25 a day for school lunch! When I looked online to see what he’s buying, I noticed that the school sells the stuff kids want ala carte. So, a chicken sandwich costs $3.50! That’s just as much as Chick fil a. He doesn’t eat breakfast, but in his words, he makes up for it at lunch. Honestly, he eats the same way at home so I shouldn’t be surprised. In middle school, he wasn’t able to buy more food, but now he can. And he can buy whatever he likes. I just pay it. He’s 14 and already 6 feet tall and still growing. Feeding him whether at school or home, is expensive!


September 26th, 2012
8:26 am

One more thing, I did notice he was buying snacks. I asked him what it was and he said rice krispy treats. I bought a box for him to grab a couple out of in the morning. Saves 50 cents a day.


September 26th, 2012
8:30 am

We went through this when our youngest was in kindergarten. The teacher would ask if she wanted breakfast so of course she said “yes” not realizing we paid for it. The child was only five for goodness sakes! I didn’t think to explain it to her ahead of time :) Once we figured it out and I sent a note to the teacher, it didn’t happen again. I keep very limited funds on the girls’ lunch accounts. The system has email alters once we hit a certain balance so I keep up with it that way.


September 26th, 2012
8:34 am

@RJ – way to give the kid control…..He can buy whatever he likes. I just pay it.

Wow, I hope he doesn’t come home with a car one day that he likes.

mystery poster

September 26th, 2012
9:38 am

I was in elementary school in the late 1960s and they offered ice cream in the cafeteria, nothing new. They were those small dixie cups with the flat wooden spoon. I think they may have only sold it on Fridays.


September 26th, 2012
10:22 am

A couple of years ago we noticed our son was buying an ice cream with his school lunch. Since he brings lunch from home 4 days a week and only buys on Fridays, we’ve let it go and haven’t made a stink about it. We probably wouldn’t know this without the online payment system, which is a great way to track your child’s spending.


September 26th, 2012
10:23 am

I put my daughter on an allowance in high school. I gave her $30 every two weeks for lunch ($1.75/day + a little more for any extras). I told her when the money ran out, she could pack a lunch or starve… I wasn’t going to support a $5/day lunch habit.


September 26th, 2012
10:24 am

My friend’s daughter was eating her packed lunch from home and buying a second lunch in the lunchroom. The problem was not discovered until the teacher saw her trying to buy a third lunch.

My friend’s 4th grade daugther is about 130 lbs.


September 26th, 2012
10:27 am

@mystery poster, Voice of Reason’s MO is to claim that anything new is what is wrong with America….even if it isn’t new.


September 26th, 2012
10:33 am

Have you ever tried limiting what a teenage boy eats? When I was in high school, I would go to my girlfriend’s house after school and eat dinner with her family. Then stop at a fast food place on the way home and eat again, and typically eat a third dinner when I got home. For lunch, my dad worked at the school, if I didn’t have enough money on my lunch account, I would just use his. I would often eat breakfast at home and at school too. The only meal I didn’t double up on was lunch. Trying to limit what a teenage boy eats is an exercise in futility. The only thing you can really do is hope they eat healthy. Oh, and before you say anthing about my size, when i graduated high school I was 6′-0″ and weighed about 160.

TnT's Mom

September 26th, 2012
10:45 am

I have two teenage boys – they eat alot! My youngest, now a freshman, takes 3 sandwiches 2 bags of chips, applesauce, and more for lunch. He doesn’t buy because the lines are too long. In prior years, I monitored their lunch spending through the online account and gave them a budget for the week, when that was gone, they either packed from home or didn’t eat. They managed just fine. In Fulton county you could choose on the website when you deposited money on their account that they could only buy the plate lunch with the account or both plate and ala carte items. We did that one year with one of our boys and if he wanted a la carte he brought money from home that he either fished out of couch cushions or worked odd chores around the house to earn.

As someone said, it is almost impossible to limit a teenage boys hunger. Just provide healthy options and make sure they get enought physical activity. My youngest has football practice for 2 hours every day after school, so I dont worry about him.


September 26th, 2012
11:19 am

The story by “Really?” sounds a lot like me in HS. Both the caloric intake and the height/weight. For 2-3 years there, the concept of “enough” just really didn’t compute, there wasn’t really any such thing.

The thing that really catches my eye in the comments is the variety of lunch prices from place to place. $5.50 minimum at our smallish private school (for taste & quality that ranges from horrid to mediocre) turned us into a regular pack-a-lunch household. There’s an awful lot of ways to beat ‘em on quality and quantity at that price point, even my 14 y/o son conceded that point pretty easily.


September 26th, 2012
11:23 am

Good gracious. When I was in elementary school (1985-1990), lunch was $1.00. And you got what they served. Period. Maybe you could get chocolate milk on Fridays. But there were no choices.

In middle school, you could either get the hot lunch, a sandwich plate, or the salad bar. But they would not let you get more than one, and you could not go back through the line twice.

In high school, you had the same choices as middle school, but there was also the option of Subway Mondays and Wednesdays, Chick-fil-A on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Papa John’s on Fridays. But, again, you couldn’t go through the line twice. And ice cream was nowhere to be found. Although you could buy a soda from the Coke machine in the cafeteria.

But this whole a la carte thing is crazy. Do they really trust an 8 year old to make good nutritional decisions to the point that they can buy ice cream every day or two lunches? Yikes.


September 26th, 2012
12:03 pm

@Really, are you kidding. I stated that now that he can buy ala carte, he’s able to choose whatever he wants. Geesh! And for the record, he can’t afford a car on my teacher’s salary. I’m driving a 14 year old car today with 236,000 miles on it. A little quick to be judgemental are we!

Old timer

September 26th, 2012
12:37 pm

I began teaching in 1975. Every school I ever worked in, in GA, or later TN sold ice cream, juice, Gatorade, and for older kids a la carte items. When I saw kids load up on junk…I first called parents. But middle school kids do eat. A more serious concerned would be girls, who never ate…called parents again….


September 26th, 2012
12:48 pm

I never worried about the cost of meals. I was glad for my kids to eat! They were thin and ate very well at home (meat and three) and I figured if they wanted it they could have it. (I have never lived where kids could buy ice cream or other junk. Just chips for extra $.

In some ways, I didn’t feel the need to be in control of how much they ate. I didn’t begrudge them the extra $5 or whatever. I might have felt differently if they were overwieght. They could have as much good food as they wanted, at school (if they could stand it) or at home.

I have never thought you saved money by bringing lunch from home. All that “easy to eat” stuff is expensive. I guess some of you know a lot more about pinching pennies than I do.


September 26th, 2012
1:00 pm

Well when I was in school…

…Coke was against the rules – it was verboten!
…There was no a la carte, although you could choose a hot meal, burger or hot dog, or salad in high school. No choice whatsoever in elementary or middle school – either eat what they served or bring your own. The food was actually made on site and was not too awful in retrospect.
…There was no breakfast offered, you ate that at home (How novel – moms actually cooked!)
…Fast food consumption was maybe McDonalds once a month. There was no other fast food except a few McD’s one-off knock-offs here and there and maybe the rare exotic Burger King.
…We played outside.
…There were relatively few fat kids.
…No kid was on ADD drugs, or anti-depressants, or weight loss drugs, or any legal drug at all. Now the illegal ones; well sure. But even those were few and far between.

Cobb Co. Graduate of 1980.


September 26th, 2012
1:35 pm

Can’t wait to see the new crop of fatties coming down the line. The way things are going, they’ll be in the little electric chairs shopping for garbage when they’re 20.


September 26th, 2012
1:54 pm

My parents did not provide an allowance when I was a kid, but we had maids, so not many chores either. I never ate lunch, but used the cash for spending money. I don’t think I ate breakfast either, I only remember a few light-headed spells in high school mornings, but otherwise ok for lack of food.

Pam at MoneyTrail

September 26th, 2012
2:05 pm

I give my kids a monthly lunch budget. Once the money for that month runs out, they take a lunch from home for the rest of the month.


September 26th, 2012
3:48 pm

Perish the thought, kids eat when they are hungry. Good god this is a whiny bunch.


September 26th, 2012
4:04 pm

I bet homeschooling parents never have this issue.


September 26th, 2012
5:38 pm

@catlady re “I have never thought you saved money by bringing lunch from home. All that “easy to eat” stuff is expensive.”

Savings depends upon the cost of the school lunch. At prices like my son’s school (min $5.50 mentioned earlier), it’s easy to find savings. At some of the prices elsewhere, it’d be much harder to find significant savings.

Mountain Man

September 26th, 2012
6:19 pm

This smacks of gun and alcohol arguments. Blame obesity on availability of a particular item or items as the reason for obesity. I am fat, therefore I eat! And I suppose the one who commented that they had never had that problem with home schooled children honestly believes there are no obese or anorexic children who are taught at home. Ha!

One big flaw in all of the reasoning is that obese children show up for pre-K and kindergarten on day one. Wouldn’t one think that if restraint on food consumption was stressed at home, you’d have a lot of skinny kids showing up at school each year and obese ones leaving in the spring? Get your minds out of the trough and take some responsibility for raising your children!


September 26th, 2012
7:45 pm

Behind Enemy Lines: No, back in the days my kids were in school lunch was 1.50 or less. Even now, I think it is about $2.


September 26th, 2012
8:09 pm

When I was in HS, in the 1970’s…lunch was 65 cents. I worked at Wal Mart and paid for my own school lunches out of my salary of $2.35 per hour. I worked 25 hours week and went to school. Of course we had real fried chicken and biscuits too!

My own two ate the standard issue or salad bar. Often said they were going to fix their own lunch but rarely remembered to do it.

When I volunteered at the check in desk for Middle School for 6 years from 2000-2006, parents came in who told me they had to walk the money in themselves. If they gave it to their kids, they would blow it on other things. There was no online payment then. I thought their problems would be getting bigger if they had the lunch money problem in MS.

I believe ice cream has been around at least since my son was in ES, in Gwinnett County. That would be 1992.

When I was in ES, we had hot dog day once a month : hot dogs, little bottles of Coke, a bag of chips, chocolate glazed donuts….gotta love it!

K's Mom

September 26th, 2012
8:39 pm

@MJG, I started to 3rd grade (we moved from another state) in Gwinnett County in 1983 and we had ice cream days at recess twice a week. I was given my $.35 in the morning and had to keep up with it until snack time. Ice cream at school is nothing new. Kids not being active is what is new and is what has led to the obesity problem….


September 26th, 2012
11:16 pm

Back in the late 60’s/early 70’s, there was no choice for lunch — there it was, take it or starve. ONE dessert per person, and you could buy an extra milk for 5 cents. No soft drinks, no snack machines, etc., etc. We were lucky, because our junior high school cafeteria manager was an absolute genius with food — it was actually GOOD. Parents would place orders for her pies for the holidays — the kitchen staff would make them to earn extra money to supplement their budget. Four kinds of pies — apple, mince, chess and pecan. Omigod, they were amazing. They sold probably 2-300 of them each year. I never took my lunch, because my mom believed in a hot lunch — basically, though, after she had fixed the full breakfast (eggs, bacon, toast, OJ and milk) and gotten herself ready for work, maybe she didn’t feel like doing lunch, too :-) Even when I offered to fix it, I ws told get eat at school. We would buy a coupon book for the week that had 5 tickets. Lose the book, you lost your lunch for the week. It was $.35 a day, so that was $1.75 a week if you bought the book, or $.50 if you didn’t have a coupon.

We were extremely fortunate because at my kid’s school, tuition included a full lunch. There were a couple of misses, but for the most part, the lunches were pretty darn good. A great salad bar, a sandwich bar, a hot meal line, a soup bar, and an ice cream case that was opened only during the last 10 minutes of the lunch period. In fact, the school didn’t allow food to be brought in, unless there was a doctor’s reason for a special diet or severe food allergies.


September 27th, 2012
12:12 am

I have to agree with Catlady- I have always thought we spent way more money on the kids bringing lunch from home. Unless you are giving them the bare minimum of food- I don’t see how it could possibly be less than what the school charges. Also I think to complain about how much your kids are eating at school must be a joke! Are you not glad that they like the food there and have good appetites? So many parents worry about their children not eating enough because they are picky eaters. I remember kids throwing away most of the food in school when I was a kid so I am happy when my children eat there and are satisfied with their lunch. Don’t be so judgemental about kids that eat a lot, especially teenagers. My son ate two lunches most days in high school because he complained that they never gave him enough- that the portions were way too small. He is active every day and does year round sports and has never had a weight problem. Those of you who try to control your children’s eating habits to such an extreme will definitely be the ones to have kids who will be sneaking snacks whenever they can. As long as they are active and in good health I wouldn’t care so much about it. I have never worried about the prices of the school lunches either. If the bill is too high for you, then cut back on something else like going to the movies, ect. Don’t cut out food that your children need.


September 27th, 2012
7:21 am

@ K’s Mom and jarvic…this is where I am typically confused with VOR’s comments. I have been told, in person, you are a voice of reason by many teachers. I never thought to use this as a blog name but wonder when the VOR here posts things that, to me, seem odd. I know I seem odd to folks here too but that is nothing I can change.


September 27th, 2012
7:22 am

ooops…jarvis…jarvic IS odd! HAHA…have a good day all!


September 27th, 2012
7:38 am

I can’t believe that people are so young – to remember what they were served in elementary, middle or high schools, even if they didn’t eat the stuff, and how much it costs or they were so traumatized by the whole thing that they could form an opinion on it even today.

In my high school, you could get lunch for 85 cents; adding a milkshake made it an even dollar.

For my kids, one gets a snack every day, one a few times a week, and the other once a week. Guess who the healthiest one is?

Not The Only One

September 27th, 2012
7:57 am

Finally – this article and “some” these comments were just what I needed. I was thinking I had the only child doing this. He will eat a small breakfast at home & then eat breakfast again at school. The interesting thing is in Gwinnett County High Schools the basic breakfast is free perhaps because the kids start so early but an extra entree item cost more – $1.25 to be exact. Some days he’ll add an extra entree at lunch which is another $2.25. I understand the needs of our growing kids. I have a 6 foot freshman that weighs 145 & plays football & wrestles so I know his body burns it up. I just try to teach him accountability instead of denying him but I do place limited funds in his a la carte amount.


September 27th, 2012
9:18 am

Mine was doing it last year and it was mucking up my budget.

To solve what I did was: Put exactly enough to buy her lunch on her account each week (painful to me yes but teaching often is). Then I handed her what I had budgeted in “extras” (because I had built some in when I paid her account) in cash with her allowence (I think it was a $3- 5 boost). I told her that if she wanted to buy the shakes, cookies and crap fine, but she had to do it in cash. At the end of the week on allowence day we would check again. Whatever she had “over spent” was deducted from the cash in hand allowence she was handed. Anything she underspent was hers to keep.

I think it took about 2 weeks to decide the extra $3 – 5 bucks was worth more than the crap she bought. It also only took 1 week of over spending and losing money to decide she needed to watch her money.

This year it is a non issue as I have the same rule in play but put $50 on the account for lunch only. I inform her that I will not pay again until ________ date. Then she sits with me when we reconcile. If she is overspent to do “extras” she hands me the cash for what she bought on “credit”. Only Mom is not charging interest yet :)


September 27th, 2012
1:04 pm

@ FCM….hoorah! You are doing your children a service byy teaching them how to budget. It will be easier when the head to college!