School lunches aren't what they used to be. At some city schools, ham and cheese sandwiches have been replaced with greasy pizza, burgers and french fries. While some schools have tried to add healthier options to their lunch menus, one Chicago school has taken a controversial approach: it banned home-packed lunches altogether.
The Chicago Tribune reported Monday that the principal of Little Village Academy decided to ban home-packed lunches at the West Side school after watching students bring lunches consisting of "bottles of soda and flaming hot chips" on field trips.
From the Tribune:
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."
The Tribune spoke to several students and parents who opposed the policy, saying children don't like the cafeteria food, and that much of it gets thrown away. Other parents said the cafeteria food, supplied by caterer Chartwells-Thompson, is a healthy option and they are happy to have it available.
Though Carmona says the Chartwells-Thompson options are healthy, others disagree.
"It's rare that I see a school, especially a public school, that actually serves food that's good," Susan Rubin, a nutritionist and founder of the Better School Food program, told AOL News. "I get physically sick just looking at it, because it makes me sick that kids are eating this processed crap."
The home-packed lunch ban was put in place six years ago, but the Tribune's Monday story sparked outrage among some conservatives.
"This is problematic for a number of reasons, least of which is probably that a one-size-fits all government brainchild is destined to fail at solving a complicated problem," ChicagoNow blogger Emily Zanotti wrote Monday. " Anyone who's ever met a kid knows that kids are weird. It's a full time job, sometimes, for parents, to figure out how to ensure a child gets necessary nutrition while skirting a number of irrational food phobias. ... A public school, with hundreds of children, could never adequately address the needs of it's bizarre little population of dietary exceptions (not to mention, she clearly foils parents who would send their children to school with certifiably organic or home-cooked lunches)."
While an outright ban may be unpopular with students at Little Village, some Chicago Public School students do want more options when it comes to cafeteria food. Last year, a group of CPS high schoolers addressed the Chicago Board of Education after realizing that a typical lunch in a CPS cafeteria clocked in at 800 calories.
"Parents rely on schools to give their children nutritious meals, not tan-colored slop," one student told the Board.
The Chicago Public School system as a whole does not ban home-packed lunches, but does allow its principals to make such decisions.
"While there is no formal policy, principals use common sense judgment based on their individual school environments," CPS spokeswoman Monique Bond told the Tribune. "In this case, this principal is encouraging the healthier choices and attempting to make an impact that extends beyond the classroom."
Some Little Village students said they would make healthy choices if given the chance.
"They're afraid that we'll all bring in greasy food instead of healthy food and it won't be as good as what they give us at school," student Yesenia Gutierrez told the paper. "It's really lame. If we could bring in our own lunches, everyone knows what they'd bring. For example, the vegetarians could bring in their own veggie food."