The New School Dilemma: Eat the Cafeteria Lunch or Go Hungry


Did you hear the one about the school lunch program in Chicago?

The Chicago Tribune recently reported that Little Village Academy, a public school on Chicago’s West Side, is prohibiting students from bringing packed lunches from home. Unless they have a medical excuse, they must eat the food served in the cafeteria.

According to the Tribune, the 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.”

She created the policy after watching students bring “bottles of soda and flaming hot chips” on field trips for their lunch. Spokeswoman for the school system, Monique Bond, said, “While there is no formal policy, principals use common sense judgment based on their individual school environments. In this case, this principal is encouraging the healthier choices and attempting to make an impact that extends beyond the classroom.”

The conflict of interest, it appears, is that when a school bans homemade lunches it 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.

If students at Little Village don’t take the cafeteria meals, they go without. Or, they go hungry when they take the cafeteria food but then throw it in the garbage. Many students complain that the food tastes bad.

Parents have taken two sides of the argument. On one side, Anna Torrez said that her grandson “is really picky about what he eats. I think they should be able to bring their lunch.”

But parent Miguel Medina said he thinks the “no home lunch policy” is a good one. “The school food is very healthy,” he said, “and when they bring the food from home, there is no control over the food.”

It’s an interesting debate during this food revolution when people are discussing the role of the government in individual food choices.

I don’t know how the food compares to what was offered when I was in grade school in the 1970s but I was definitely a picky eater. I could bring peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches five days a week and be perfectly content eating them in lieu of some of the choices offered at school. If I couldn’t pack my own lunch back then, I would have definitely gone hungry at school!

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4 responses to “The New School Dilemma: Eat the Cafeteria Lunch or Go Hungry

  1. Hard to form a real opinion without knowing what the food options are at the school…but either way…taking parents out of the equation regarding what their children are eating?? Would not work for me.

    • I hear you, Melissa. It doesn’t make sense to keep the parents out of the loop. I’d love to see what’s on the menu at that school. Thanks for your comment!

  2. I agree that parents need a say – some parents would not provide a decent lunch for their kids, and others would probably freak at what the school is offering, particularly if much of it is processed foods! What a conundrum! I’m LOL about your grade school experiences – when I was in grade school, we were blessed with “lunch ladies” who made fabulous home-made soups, chili, spaghetti, sandwiches like tuna salad, egg salad, ham salad on decent bread, and fun desserts on occasion like apple crisp, home-made cookies and the like. We paid $1.25 a week (a quarter a DAY) for this magnificent banquet. And, we lived in a rural/semi-suburban area where a lot of the farm kids couldn’t afford the school lunch and packed their own – Shedd’s peanut butter with or without jam, bologna sandwiches, and the like.
    When we went off to the Junior/Senior high school, we were suddenly in the world of “commercially prepared” foods in pre-measured pieces and amounts. I had never been exposed to food so card-boardy and bland. We lost all that good food! However, we were still allowed to bring lunch from home. Of course, at that time, there was not nearly the selection of pre-packaged junk foods that exist today, and no mother would allow her child to bring chips and a soda to be their lunch.

    • Thanks for sharing your experiences from the lunch room! I remember lunch ladies, too, but in our school they were basically just monitors who told us when to get in line and to keep kids from throwing food!

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