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Chicago School Bans Kids From Bringing Lunch From Home

In one Chicago school, it’s the end of the lunchbox and the brown paper bag:

Fernando Dominguez cut the figure of a young revolutionary leader during a recent lunch period at his elementary school.

“Who thinks the lunch is not good enough?” the seventh-grader shouted to his lunch mates in Spanish and English.

Dozens of hands flew in the air and fellow students shouted along: “We should bring our own lunch! We should bring our own lunch! We should bring our own lunch!”

Fernando waved his hand over the crowd and asked a visiting reporter: “Do you see the situation?”

At his public school, Little Village Academy on Chicago’s West Side, students are not allowed to pack lunches from home. Unless they have a medical excuse, they must eat the food served in the cafeteria.

Principal Elsa Carmona said her intention is to protect students from their own unhealthful food choices.

“Nutrition wise, it is better for the children to eat at the school,” Carmona said. “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 said she created the policy six years ago after watching students bring “bottles of soda and flaming hot chips” on field trips for their lunch. Although she would not name any other schools that employ such practices, she said it was fairly common.

A Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman said she could not say how many schools prohibit packed lunches and that decision is left to the judgment of the principals.

“While there is no formal policy, principals use common sense judgment based on their individual school environments,” Monique Bond wrote in an email. “In this case, this principal is encouraging the healthier choices and attempting to make an impact that extends beyond the classroom.”

Of course, there might be other reasons for this decision:

Any school that bans homemade lunches also puts more money in the pockets of the district’s food provider, Chartwells-Thompson. The federal government pays the district for each free or reduced-price lunch taken, and the caterer receives a set fee from the district per lunch.

At Little Village, most students must take the meals served in the cafeteria or go hungry or both. During a recent visit to the school, dozens of students took the lunch but threw most of it in the garbage uneaten. Though CPS has improved the nutritional quality of its meals this year, it also has seen a drop-off in meal participation among students, many of whom say the food tastes bad.

“Some of the kids don’t like the food they give at our school for lunch or breakfast,” said Little Village parent Erica Martinez. “So it would be a good idea if they could bring their lunch so they could at least eat something.”

“(My grandson) is really picky about what he eats,” said Anna Torrez, who was picking up the boy from school. “I think they should be able to bring their lunch. Other schools let them. But at this school, they don’t.”

Ms. Torrez, that’s because the bureaucrats at the school think they know what’s good for your grandson better than you do. After all, it takes someone who got a Bachelors Degree in Education to raise a child.

UPDATE (James Joyner): A YahooNews version of the story includes this nugget:

For parents whose kids do not qualify for free or reduced price school lunches, the $2.25 daily cafeteria price can also tally more than a homemade lunch. “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,” Northwestern education policy professor Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach told the paper in an email. She told The Lookout parents at her child’s public school would be upset if they tried to ban homemade lunches.

So, in addition to the objections noted by Doug in the original, this will be a financial burden on some working class parents, especially those with multiple kids in school.

Amusingly, this photo accompanies that story:

My recollection of school lunches, which I occasionally bought, was that they were often built around a main course of hot dogs, sloppy Joes, pizza, and the like. The kid might as well bring in a bologna sandwich and some chips from home if that’s the healthy alternative provided by the school.

 

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Tony says:

    “Ms. Torrez, that’s because the bureaucrats at the school think they know what’s good for your grandson better than you do. ”

    I suppose I should make clear where I stand politically on this.

    The kids should be allowed to bring in lunches from home.

    However, let’s be clear, sometimes the teachers do know what’s good for the children better than the parents do. It’s just a fact. There are a lot of thoroughly crappy parents around. Some parents provide their children with excellent packed lunches. Many don’t. It’s quite common these days for children to pitch up at school with a “lunch” that consists primarily of sweets and crisps.

    Finally, when did this become about what children “want to eat”? I clearly recall that when I was a child I was given food and was expected to eat it or go hungry. We would all have “wanted” to live on a diet of crisps and sweets, but we weren’t allowed to because our parents acted responsibly and because it was assumed that pre-pubescent kids were not in a position to dictate their diet, either in the home or in school. If we didn’t want what was available, we went hungry. And you know what? We ate what was available.

    I’m a conservative and I totally get the aversion to state meddling in this sort of area (though there are plenty of areas where parents do not get a say in how things are organised in schools, so I’m not 100% sure that lunch should be an exception). But I don’t really see what’s so conservative about supporting the logic that kids must be given access to the food they enjoy eating. It used to be that getting children to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables was something that conservatives could get behind, as something that not only promoted health but built discipline, at least where I come from.

    Which is England, so that might not count.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  2. JKB says:

    No, the school could have just banned certain items, like soda, from lunches.

    I’d look into the principal’s finances for the answer. Most likely she has an interest in the food provider or is getting kickbacks.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  3. Matt says:

    Pretty sure my mom would have jammed my PBJ, pear and two cookies up her ass.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  4. michael reynolds says:

    Attica! Attica!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  5. PD Shaw says:

    I agree with the school; let the kids who don’t like the taste of lunch throw it away and suffer hunger pains through the day. Yes, I understand mass-prepared foods don’t often taste as good as the stuff made at home with fresh ingredients. But screw the ungrateful brats. They need to respect authority.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 15

  6. Jay Tea says:

    I just might have to lift this story, just to use the headline “Putting The ‘Loco’ In ‘In Loco Parentis'”

    J.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. Ben says:

    What about families that make “too much” to qualify for free stuff, and yet things are still tight enough that they don’t want to pay for school lunches (which is the group that my family always fell into growing up)? Tough crap, that’s what.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  8. Justin Bowen says:

    Finally, when did this become about what children “want to eat”?

    Take a look at so many parents here in the US and you’ll understand why that is being used as a reason for opposing the ban.

    It used to be that getting children to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables was something that conservatives could get behind, as something that not only promoted health but built discipline, at least where I come from.

    Which is England, so that might not count.

    You can’t be from England; you know how to use a comma.

    No, the school could have just banned certain items, like soda, from lunches.

    And how do you enforce that? Should the school hire lunch bag inspectors? If the lunch bag gestapo does find banned items in kids’ lunches and the kids refuse to give up the banned items, what should the lunch bag gestapo do? Suspend the students? Call the police? Have them tasered? Have them arrested? Have them killed? Or simply send a strongly-worded and completely powerless letter home to the crappy parents?

    Assuming that the move isn’t designed to bring in more federal dollars (and it probably is) but rather to actually give the kids at least one healthy meal per day, this is the only feasible way to get that done.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  9. anjin-san says:

    Wait… wait… I think Obama is a Chicago guy. He is taking our freedoms. Acorn is into this up to their necks. Any Ayres…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  10. Neil Hudelson says:

    You can’t be from England; you know how to use a comma.

    Bazinga!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  11. JKB says:

    PD Shaw, the kids are close enough to have watched and taken heed of the advice from the Wisconsin teachers, “Question authority, don’t compromise, screw the man.” Ann Althouse warned them of this.

    It isn’t the schools job to see that the kids have a progressive passed meal, it is simply their job to make a meal available and at low or no cost if the student qualifies for the federal program. But it is rather simple to police soda cans and chip bags on the tables during lunch.

    Of course the real solution is to provide a tasty meal. Since this obviously connected contractor can’t, I say contract with McDonalds. Progressives are always complaining that McDonalds provides cheap, tasty, readily available food. Put that skill to use. And where are the little budding capitalists running a decent food service out of a locker?

    Now the one thing that should be absolutely required is the principal and teachers are required to eat off the student serving lines and clean their plates. That’s what a good warden does in all the prison reform movies.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  12. Mark says:

    Just let them try something like this in my school district. I will sue the district so fast their heads will spin. No one will ever tell me that I can not prepare my child’s food that way I deem fit. By the way, this is not about nutrition, it is about money; that is, more students are bringing home lunches to school to save money and satisfy their children’s preferences, which means district food service contracts/expense become more costly. It is just a smokescreen linking this issue to nutrition and will prove to be unconstitutional when challenged. So go ahead, come to my district and do this so I can bring legal action against these idiots. Please … come!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  13. john personna says:

    I liked my PB&J, plain chips, and milk every day for like 10 years.

    It would have been very traumatic for little John to take lunch-tray roulette.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. john personna says:

    (I doubt anyone would have expected me to become an ethnic food adventurer based on that diet ;-)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  15. john personna says:

    But I don’t really see what’s so conservative about supporting the logic that kids must be given access to the food they enjoy eating. It used to be that getting children to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables was something that conservatives could get behind, as something that not only promoted health but built discipline, at least where I come from.

    I’d say never in America. For whatever reason, liberals “own” good food.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

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  19. Gwenyvier says:

    Hmmmm, lets see. We’ll assume 1000 students. Before the policy was put into effect probably 1/3rd of the students bought lunch. $2.25 a lunch for 333 students is about $750 a day. Now make it for all 1000 and it jumps to about $2100(amount reduced to represent except students).

    Yea… couldn’t POSSIBLY be about the money.

    You can see the rest of my thoughts on this, and other things, at http://rantingwitch.blogspot.com/

    ~Gwen

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