A couple of weeks ago, the Chicago Tribune reported that a Chicago public school has banned lunches brought from home.
With the exception of those with allergies or medical issues, all children at the Little Village Academy must purchase and eat the lunch provided in the cafeteria or go hungry. Principal Elsa Carmona was quoted in the article saying that the policy was put into place to protect students from making unhealthy 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."
I believe that Carmona implemented this policy with the best of intentions, but as a parent, I question the wisdom of this choice. I've heard stories of children bringing a bag of chips, a doughnut and a can of soda to school for their lunches. While I feel that the adults in these kids' lives need to do something to guide them toward more nutritionally-sound choices, I don't think that banning all lunches from home is the best way to go about it. Perhaps the school could work with students and/or families by implementing a nutrition curriculum, or they could request that particularly problematic foods not be brought to school in lunches from home. The schools in my area do not allow children to bring soda to school and I have yet to meet a parent who has a problem with this rule.
For me, this is primarily an issue of parental choice and authority. I pack my son's lunch for school nearly every day and I try to fill his lunchbox with nutritious food that he will eat and enjoy. I do my best to include lean protein, whole grains and several servings of fresh fruits and vegetables. I purchase organic foods as often as our family budget allows. Still, I like to include a little treat in his lunch box most days -- cheese crackers, salami, a cookie or a bit of candy.
When I compare the lunches I make to the lunches he is served at school, the lunches from home are far healthier than the heavily processed and over-packaged foods that come out of his school cafeteria. But, even if his lunches were not healthier, I feel it is my right as my son's parent to determine what foods he has access to. I seriously doubt that every child at Little Village Academy was bringing chips and soda for their lunch every day. This policy doesn't just affect families who are not providing their children with healthy meals from home; it also affects the families who are striving to provide their children with healthy lunches.
I also wonder how this is affecting families in this school financially. For children who do not qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, the $45-per-month cost of school lunches could be quite a burden. Lunches sent from home can be assembled for far less than that amount.
What do you think? Should a school be allowed to ban lunches brought from home?
This post also appears on Parentella's Blog.
Follow Aparna Vashisht on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@parentella