Monday, April 11, 2011

You CAN'T Bring Lunch?!?

A friend posted a story on facebook today that got my little ol' homeschooling self all riled up.

Apparently, there is a school in Chicago that forbids students from bringing their own lunch from home. Supposedly, it's because the school provides a healthier lunch than the parents. The skeptic in me doesn't buy that line of reasoning.

First of all, I can't vouch for the lunches at this particular school. They may be wonderfully healthy and kid friendly all in one (and cooked by rainbow colored unicorns for all we know). I'm skeptical though.

Secondly, forbidding food from home means the kids must buy lunch at school if they want to eat, at a rate of about $2.25 per lunch from the looks of the news stories. That's $11.25 a week per kid. I'm very confident I could provide a healthy lunch for my child for less than that. I also wonder at the legality of denying a child food unless it is purchased at the school, forcing the parents to purchase food from a certain vendor.

Unless the child qualifies for free or reduced lunch. And I think that's where we probably start getting to the truth of the matter. I don't know all the ins and outs of the National School Lunch Program, but I found this handy dandy fact sheet that lays out the rules including the amount of money a school receives for each free, reduced price OR EVEN PAID FOR meal they serve. The schools also get support in the form of "entitlement foods" from the USDA as well as "bonus USDA foods as they are available from surplus agricultural stocks" (I could start an entire farm subsidies rant here, but do a little searching and read for yourself. There's even a story out today about Paul Ryan's proposed budget cutting farm subsidies). There's even a separate category all for milk payments. While I drink cow's milk, you'll never convince me it's the ultimate health food it's been made out to be. Human beings don't NEED milk from another animal and any belief to the contrary is pure marketing from the Dairy Council, who has all sorts of lobbying power influencing these USDA decisions.

I do believe folks, that money may be at the heart of this issue. Am I jaded and skeptical? Sure. I've also learned over time that following the money generally leads you to some pretty interesting information. What I would like to know, in black and white, is what this school pays to prepare lunches and what money they bring in from those lunches. Perhaps it'd also be nice to know where any of the non-USDA food comes from and if any officials over the school have connections to those companies.

I'm all for healthier school lunches. Provide more fresh fruits and vegetables. Take out coke machines (and chocolate milk while you're at it). I spent a whole year of middle school eating cinnamon rolls or powdered donuts and coke for lunch. Another year it was french fries and coke. I believed I was making a healthy choice when I went all out and got a pizza pocket. So yes, I'm totally on board with limiting the completely unhealthy options that were available when I was in school. But the day you tell me that I, as a parent, am not allowed to provide my child's lunch? That's the day I yank them out of your school and take back my parental rights. Oh wait, I already preemptively did that.

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