A small school in Chicago is making big news on the lunch line these days. Little Village Academy on Chicago's West Side no longer allows students to bring food from home to eat for lunch. So it's either eat the cafeteria food or go hungry. As you might expect, the policy has parents all around the nation in an uproar.
According to Little Village's principal, Elsa Carmona, the intention of the policy is to protect students from the potential for unhealthy homemade lunches.
"Nutrition wise, it is better for the children to eat at the school," Carmona told the Chicago Tribune. "It's about the nutrition and the excellent quality food that they are able to serve (in the lunchroom). It's milk versus a Coke. But with allergies and any medical issue, of course, we would make an exception."
Carmona says she made the policy decision after seeing kids bringing bottles of soda and bags of chips on field trips. I applaud her intention to improve kids' nutrition, but I'm not sure that banning homemade lunches is the way to get it done.
For starters, it's expensive. Sure, the government will pick up the tab for those who qualify for free or reduced-fee lunches, but what about the folks who don't qualify, but still don't have an extra $45 to shell out each month for school lunches? I pack my daughter's lunch almost every day, and even with all of my hippy-dippy ingredients: whole grain bread, organic peanut butter and organic fruits and veggies, I don't spend anywhere near the $2.25 a day that it costs for lunch at Little Village Academy.
Another reason Carmona's plan might not work? If they don't like it, the kids aren't going to eat it. According to the Tribune article, many of the students take the lunch offered at Little Village, but throw most of it in the garbage uneaten. It's incredibly wasteful for the school and incredibly unhealthy for the kids who forgo lunch only to rush home and gorge on whatever snacks they can find. As far as I can tell, the only party that benefits is Chartwells-Thompson, the school lunch caterer that gets paid for every meal students take.
So if banning school lunches isn't the best plan, how can we improve kids' nutrition at lunchtime? How about banning certain types of food? My daughter's school bans fast food. Parents are welcome to visit their kids at lunchtime, but they can't bring them a Happy Meal or even a Subway sandwich to eat. It's not much, but it's a start.
At Claremont Academy Elementary School in Chicago, school administrators allow packed lunches but not foods loaded with sugar or salt. The latter are confiscated and returned after school. Hartselle Junior High School in Alabama bans any outside beverages and serves ice water to all students at lunchtime. Arizona Children's Success Academy allows home-packed lunches, but only those do not contain white flour, refined sugar, or other "processed" foods. While some might find these policies restrictive, at least they give the parents the chance to send their child to school with a lunch that their kids will eat.
What are the rules at your kid's school? Is it anything goes or are there policies to ensure that homemade lunches meet certain nutrition standards?