School is not just for learning any more. Schools now provide breakfast and lunch for students. In the past, students and their parents had the option to either eat lunch at the school cafeteria or else bring their home-made lunch to school. But now, some schools are banning home-made meals. For example, Chicago’s Little Village Academy ruled that children had to eat only a school-provided lunch.
As reported by AOL News on 11 April 2011, Susan Rubin, a nutritionist and founder of the Better School Food program, stated that the lunches offered by the schools’ food providers are not necessarily more nutritious than those made at home.
“It’s rare that I see a school, especially a public school, that actually serves food that’s good,” she told AOL News. “It makes me sick that kids are eating this processed crap.”
A Chicago Tribune newspaper reporter spoke to students and parents who opposed the ban. They told the reporter that some children don’t like the cafeteria food, and much of it gets thrown away.
According to Medical Daily (16 Nov. 2013), a preschool in Richmond, Virginia also banned homemade lunches. The school blamed the Federal Programs Preschool rules on lunches from home, which state that students may bring lunches from home only if there is a medical condition requiring a specific diet, along with a note from a physician.
Such bans have been reported at other schools. The “Healthy Home Economist” reported that a preschooler at the West Hoke Elementary School in North Carolina had to eat a cafeteria lunch containing pink slime chicken nuggets when the school decided that the turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips, and apple juice her mother packed was not nutritious enough.
About 32 million American children eat breakfast and lunch at school under the National School Lunch Program. Of these, 21 million students participate in free or reduced-price meals. Children in poor families that cannot afford to feed their children adequately may well need to be helped, but that does not provide any reason to ban nutritious homemade meals.
Food tyranny is not confined to the USA. Canada has a national Food Guide, and if a student’s homemade lunch does not follow it, the parent is fined. For example, the Manitoba Government’s Early Learning and Child Care lunch regulations require a child’s lunch to be “balanced.” A mother who packed a lunch was slapped with a $10 fine. Her meal was unbalanced because she did not include crackers.
Nutrition is a controversial subject. Some people think cow milk is healthy, while others disagree. Some think that moderate amounts of sugar do not harm, while others think that any artificial sugar is bad. Some believe that meat provides good nutrition, while others believe it is healthier to be vegetarians or vegans. The experts disagree among themselves. Also, of course, children have individual tastes and dietary needs. Government policy forces most of the children to consume the same meal or a narrow range of choices. Much of the food then gets thrown out.
Any decision about school lunches in government-run schools is inevitably political. The federal government is now in charge of what children eat, and policy is influenced by the special interests which finance political campaigns and lobby for legislation.
Thus, the U.S. Department of Agriculture subsidizes poultry production, and then provides schools with free chicken. Many schools do not cook the chicken themselves; they send the chicken to food processors that turn the meat into chicken nuggets and sell them back to the schools. Rather than cook pizza themselves, many schools buy pizzas from food sellers. Schools get potatoes from the government and send them to food makers that sell them back to the school as French Fries.
The cafeteria management companies save money by not having to hire cooks, and they often receive rebates from the food processors. The schools pay the full price for the processed food, which includes rebates that are not disclosed. Since homemade food competes with cafeteria food, it is in the financial interest of the big food producers and cafeteria management firms to stop competition from home production.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest has declared that such sending of food out to be processed results in food high in saturated fat and salt. A 2008 study, “Impact of Federal Commodity Programs on School Meal Nutrition,” by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, concluded that what starts as healthy food gets processed into products whose nutritional value is the same as junk food. The study found that California school districts used more than 82 percent of their food commodity funds to buy meat and cheese, spending only 13 percent on fruits and vegetables.
One problem with homemade lunches is that some parents give their children junk food. In that case, the school lunch would be better. But some parents provide a superior lunch, so a ban prevents both better and worse lunches. A sensible approach is to hire a nutritionist who would inform and council parents about better food choices. Few parents seek to deliberately harm their child with unhealthy food. For better nutrition, persuasion is a better policy than force.