The Chicago Tribune is reporting that the a school(Little Village Academy) in Chicago has banned kids from bring in their own lunches unless they have a medical reason to do so. While the school & the district is spinning this as being about protecting kids from bad food choices many think that the school & it’s food service provider are putting profit over pupils. The principal, Elsa Carmona, says that other schools have a similar policy, though she was unable to name which other schools have such a policy. More worrying is that the school district has no official written policy on bagged lunches, nor do they keep track of which principals have decided to do away with allowing them. Parents don’t have much choice in the matter as the school their child goes to usually depends on where they live. They may not have any recourse to send their child to another school & perhaps many aren’t going to be inclined to do so over something “petty” like the school lunch program.School cafeteria food hasn’t been good for decades & it’s nutritional content is very questionable. When I was going to elementary school in the early 90s you did not see a cornucopia of nutrition. What you did see were things like salads full of iceberg lettuce with slivers of carrot & red cabbage smothered in ranch dressing; formed breaded & fried chicken nuggets; sandwiches made with white bread full of corn syrup & dough conditioners that had processed ham & cheese in the middle; hot dogs or ‘pig in a blankets’ made with meat that was probably sourced from questionable locations; sometimes even fast food would make an appearance, a few times the school teamed with Taco Bell and the students all got bean & cheese burritos; and even peanut butter & jelly wasn’t safe as the peanut butter was probably full of hydrogenated oils & the jelly full of corn syrup. I often found the PB&J option to be made with stale & dried out bread as well. Back then food allergies weren’t taken into consideration much either. Your beverage options were 2% milk, skim milk or chocolate milk. I couldn’t drink milk for awhile while growing up & it was very hard to get some water to go with my lunch. When I’d ask lunch attendants to provide me with water they would ask me why I wasn’t drinking my milk? I’d explain I couldn’t drink it due to allergy & some would act almost annoyed & explain to me that I should drink the milk to get strong bones. Seriously… The main point I am making here is that school lunches have been far from healthy for a very long time. I am wondering if the principal at Little Village Academy eats these lunches, everyday, herself?
Now another question comes up, do parents actually pack a healthier lunch? I rarely had a packed lunch when I was growing up; When I did have a packed lunch, I would have to say that the food was usually tastier, but was it really better? Memorable lunches I brought to school included things like potato chips, sloppy joes, fig newtons, sparkling juice, apples & carrots. Less memorable lunches usually were made from cheap slices of white bread with low quality lunch meat between them. I think the ingredients used in my packed lunches, at times, was higher quality than the school lunches. The Little Village Academy principal claims she made the decision to not allow bagged lunches after seeing kids taking soda & chips on field trips for their lunch. I’ve seen what some parents have packed into their kids lunch & honestly I can’t say that I am always very impressed with their choices. The fact is a lot of shelf stable, single portion, portable foods aren’t that good for you. Things like kids juice drinks, snack pack cookies, crackers or chips, breakfast cereal bowls or fruit containers are usually full of sodium, sugar and/or carbohydrates. Even things you make yourself like sandwiches can quickly become unhealthy or very expensive. For example the peanut butter & jelly sandwich can be quite unhealthy, even when made with good ingredients like organic peanut butter & jelly that has no high fructose in it. If you want to make sandwiches with quality meat, that’s going to cost you as well. Honestly, good quality food(e.g. organic, hormone & antibiotic free and/or free range) costs considerably more & can be harder to come by. Many times families will not go for the healthiest option due to the cost difference or the parents themselves are not aware or do not care what is or is not healthier.
All of this being said, I think it’s a poor choice that the principal took it upon herself to enforce a restrictive & draconian policy on the students & their parents, especially when trying to speak as though she was taking some sort of moral high ground in regards to her student’s nutrition. She may not like what the parents are giving them, but frankly, she’s not giving them anything better.