Banning Homemade School Lunches?

From time to time a piece of news catches my eye that makes me really, really, glad my kids are nearly out of school. (My youngest graduates this year.) The last come from the news that Chicago area public schools are banning children from bringing their lunch from home in an attempt to control the nutrition levels the kids are subjected to during the day. The only exceptions, apparently, are for kids who have allergies, which most likely need to be documented by a physician. If a child doesn’t like the school lunch that day, tough beans. No soup for you. Or PB&J with the crusts cut off. No string cheese.

Yes, childhood obesity has gotten out of hand in recent years, and a lot of school lunches across the country have been less than healthy, many offering daily choices of pizza and other fast food with access to soda and candy machines. I remember when I was a junior in high school, and I moved into a wealthier district where these choices first presented themselves. I was overwhelmed, and yes, I believe I gained about 20 pounds that year. I fully support taking away soda and candy machines, and making changes to make the in school choices healthier.

Among the arguments the school gives is they want kids to be “drinking milk instead of a coke.” Personally, I’ve never liked milk unless it’s flavored with something else. My kids were never the biggest fans either. And even if the school is right, the whole “my way or the highway” attitude is not going to win any points with parents.

I understand that teachers and other school staff need to try and get these kids to learn something, and butting heads with a kid on a sugar high makes their jobs that much more challenging, but I would imagine trying to teach over a kid’s growling stomach would bring a similar challenge. And there will be days kids just won’t eat at school because they don’t like what’s in front of them.

Have you ever heard that piece of advice that says you shouldn’t go to the grocery store when you’re hungry because you are more likely to buy unhealthy things? The same principle applies to a kid who is famished at the end of the school day, stopping off at the nearest burger joint or raiding the fridge for all the wrong things the minute they get home.

I do approve of some basic restrictions on food choices, like no soda, potato chips, or candy and limiting baked goods to once a week. It would be wonderful to see a quarterly seminar on nutrition where parents and others in the community are invited to learn about nutrition. These are legitimate options to combat unhealthy food from home.

Truthfully, back in the day, my kids usually ate the school lunch, mostly because it was convenient and relatively cheap for what they got. Neither of them has ever had a weight problem, a fact I attribute mostly to their inheritance of their father’s metabolism.

There are also a lot of parents who can’t afford the price of a school lunch each day, and with smart shopping and food preparation it is possible to provide children a daily lunch at a low cost. Yes, there are free and reduced price lunch programs for families who struggle financially, but many families that would qualify do not take part in these programs because they don’t want their kids to suffer the stigma from their peers, or they don’t feel right receiving extra government services if they feel they can get by without them.

Chances are, there are few parents, or people in general, that don’t look at other parents and find fault in some of their parenting methods. But unless a child is in true immediate danger there is little to do, but to offer suggestions and try to set a good example ourselves. We are not their parents, and neither is the public school system, in Chicago or anywhere else. Trying too hard to take on that role will only bring resentment from students and parents, and that’s not healthy for anyone.