Cafeteria Food Fight

Today, the Chicago Tribune reported that one local school, Chicago’s Little Village Academy, is forcing children to eat at their cafeteria or go hungry. The school has mandated that unless a child has a medical excuse such as an allergy, they are not allowed to bring a packed lunch from home. According to school Principal Elsa Carmona, her intention is to protect students from their own unhealthful food choices.

How, praytell, is forcing young children to choose between hunger and meager, unappetizing slop “protecting students”? And how is it helping them to make healthful choices on their own?

My children don’t eat school cafeteria food, mainly because they wouldn’t choose to eat it at all. This week, their school menu touts the following unhealthful things: breaded chicken (fried in oil of course), cookies, cheeseburger and potato smiles (again with the oil!), fruit cup (lots of sugar in that!), brownies, tamale pocket, cheese its, cheese pizza and chips. Given their own choice, my kids choose things like turkey sandwiches, bananas, apples, peanut butter sandwiches, homemade soups and juice. As a parent, these are choices that I reinforce. It’s not the purview of the school to decide what my child eats. It is their job to teach them math, science, reading, critical thinking, etc. I certainly would take it as an affront if I was told that I could no longer send whole wheat turkey sandwiches, bananas, crackers and juice to school with my children because the school (and government) knew better what to feed them.

The other thing that I find most horrifying about this story is that the ban on homemade lunches puts money directly into the pockets of the school district’s food provider and that the government pays the district for each free or reduced price lunch that is served. So in effect, the taxpayer is footing the bill for school lunches that are often thrown away uneaten. What a waste of money, time and food resources!

The article also points out that the overall nutritional quality of the meals is poor (albeit improved from last year, yay.) and that there has been a drop-off in the number of students participating in meals. Now, taking into account that this school and many other districts have breakfast programs, that means that many of the children that qualify for free or discounted breakfast and lunches aren’t eating anything all day long until they get home after school. How does Principal Carmona expect students at the school to be able to concentrate and learn over the distraction of their empty bellies?! For shame!