School Forces Kids to Eat Cafeteria Lunch or Go Hungry

A public elementary school in Chicago has banned brown bag lunches. Little Village Academy Principal Elsa Carmona says the purpose of the ban is to ensure that students are eating nutritious cafeteria lunches instead of outside junk food.

Of course, the students at Little Village Academy are less than thrilled. The Chicago Tribune reports:

Fernando Dominguez cut the figure of a young revolutionary leader during a recent lunch period at his elementary school.

“Who thinks the lunch is not good enough?” the seventh-grader shouted to his lunch mates in Spanish and English.

Dozens of hands flew in the air and fellow students shouted along: “We should bring our own lunch! We should bring our own lunch! We should bring our own lunch!”

But the seventh-graders aren’t the only ones upset.

“This is such a fundamental infringement on parental responsibility,” said J. Justin Wilson, a senior researcher at the Washington-based Center for Consumer Freedom, which is partially funded by the food industry.

“Would the school balk if the parent wanted to prepare a healthier meal?” Wilson said. “This is the perfect illustration of how the government’s one-size-fits-all mandate on nutrition fails time and time again. Some parents may want to pack a gluten-free meal for a child, and others may have no problem with a child enjoying soda.”

For many [Chicago Public School System] parents, the idea of forbidding home-packed lunches would be unthinkable. If their children do not qualify for free or reduced-price meals, such a policy would require them to pay $2.25 a day for food they don’t necessarily like.

“We don’t spend anywhere close to that on my son’s daily intake of a sandwich (lovingly cut into the shape of a Star Wars ship), Goldfish crackers and milk,” education policy professor Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach wrote in an email. Her son attends Nettelhorst Elementary School in Lakeview. “Not only would mandatory school lunches worsen the dietary quality of most kids’ lunches at Nettelhorst, but it would also cost more out of pocket to most parents! There is no chance the parents would stand for that.”

But parents may have to stand for it. Little Village Academy isn’t the only public school enforcing dietary restrictions. The Washington Post reported yesterday that some school districts in the D.C. area have banned chocolate milk—to the chagrin of many parents, who are more than willing to let their children enjoy the sugary drink if it means getting them their daily dose of calcium.

In the case of Little Village Academy, the issue is larger than kids’ personal gustatory disappointments. This is also about money, as the Tribune pointedly observes:

Any school that bans homemade lunches also puts more money in the pockets of the district’s food provider, Chartwells-Thompson. The federal government pays the district for each free or reduced-price lunch taken, and the caterer receives a set fee from the district per lunch.

So everyone wins!—except the students, many of whom go without lunch rather than eat the food provided; and, of course, their parents, who pay $2.25-a-day for the privilege of not being able to choose what kind of food their children eat.