Guest blogger: Alternatives to school lunches

Why am I interested in posting about alternatives to school lunches? Well, because many parents have the money and time to prepare meals at home for their children. It would be great if all parents had the ability to do this for their children every day. Not all of us are that lucky in life. Additionally, I believe it’s important to learn about what parents prepare for their children outside of school.


I am Judy Thomas, a Virginia mom, gardener, home cook, crafter and part time college teacher. I guess there are two ways to approach sub-par school lunches: one is to change the system, the other is to opt out.  I admire those who have tried to change the ways our kids eat, but am writing this for those who opt out of the school food system.
I have been packing my son’s school lunches for nine years (and my work lunches for years before that).  We are vegetarians, but that is not the main reason to pack, our school has a “vegetarian” option every day.  No, I want my child to eat healthy foods and our schools just do not provide them.  Before I go on, I have great sympathy for school cafeteria workers and managers.  They are under tremendous fiscal pressure to make their school cafeteria self-supporting.  They have to watch every penny like a hawk and the most common solution is to use cheap, pre-prepared, processed foods and commodity foods.  I also feel for poor families, who cannot afford any alternatives to the school lunch, but many of us can.
In our elementary schools, parents are able to eat lunch with their children.  Watching what other kids ate (or would not touch) on their cafeteria trays reinforced my belief in providing lunches from home.  Mystery meat and gray vegetables, cheap carbo fillers, and the “fruit cup” were unappealing, as was all the packaging and waste.  Many kids ate only one solid food item for lunch, like pretzels. And washed it down with milk or juice.  Most of the time, the home lunches seemed better, though not always (chips, cokes, doughnuts and “Lunchables” were sometimes included).
For many years, my son’s tastes were simple-a PB &J sandwich or cheese sandwich, cheese and crackers and occasionally a thermos of pasta and cheese.  To this I added some fruit (pre-cored and/or sliced to make it easy to eat), a cookie, some “juicy water” (water mixed with a little juice, now just water) and maybe a handful of crackers or “goldfish” on the “forbidden fruit” principle (I believe if you forbid your child to eat any convenience food, that food will become highly desirable to them).
This year, my son started to balk a bit. The main reason is that he does not like carrying around a lunch bag all day (though sure likes dipping into it during class to get a snack when hungry!) and was tired of the uniformity of his lunches. So here are some typical “new” offerings for this school year: grilled cheese or “pizza” sandwiches on homemade bread (the latter with added tomato sauce) (well wrapped to stay warm), a thermos of pasta, ricotta and mozzarella, leftovers from dinner the night before (cheese blintzes, soup, lasagna, Indian lentils and rice), vegetable sushi (I purchase this as an occasional treat), hummus and baked tortilla chips or crackers, and PB, but now with apple/banana, honey and raisins.  I add the usual fruit (though now will sometimes cut up pineapple or strawberries) and salty snack.  It takes me on average about 10 minutes to prepare a lunch, and some of that is just reheating.  I include food from the garden in his lunches when available- the soups, salsa and tomato sauce are made from my home canned tomatoes, and my pumpkin bread us from our garden pumpkins. I give him home canned or frozen fruit from the garden- much of the fresh fruit and veggies come in the summer, when he is out of school, and we all just gorge ourselves on it then! (Right now, we are into major brace$, so it limits his munching on raw carrots, and things like that).
I love to cook, having learned from my beloved mother what NOT to do in the kitchen (she was of a generation that hated to cook and made the same food over and over. Shake and Bake frequently graced our table).  I do have a luxury that many people do not- I work part time, much of it from home.  But even when I worked full time, I was able to fit bread making and scratch cooking into my weeks and weekends.  And that is an important key to making good lunches for your kids, and having tasty leftovers that you can reheat and pop in a thermos on those busy mornings.  Bread can be made once per week, using an overnight method or refrigerator dough (and nothing is as wonderful as he smell of a loaf fresh from the oven!).

Many people are intimidated by baking bread- it really is not hard (I know, I have been doing it for 25 years), does not take a lot of active time (just some time waiting for it to rise) and can be fit into a busy schedule.  I first learned to bake from “The Tassajara Bread Book” (great instructions in “A Loaf for Learning”) and “Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book,” both from the hippie-inspired 60’s and 70’s and somewhat more involved than you may want (now I just whip up a recipe every week, making a different, often sourdough, bread, but that does take some experience). When I was working, I mixed and kneaded bread either at night to bake in the morning or in the morning to bake when I got home from work, or waited until the weekend (we actually listen to a radio show as a family on Sunday afternoons and this is my bread-baking time).  When my son was little, he was my baking helper and knows the basic ingredients of bread and how to knead it… and sure appreciates the final product!  As a teen ager, he is not as interested in cooking, but this summer he is going to be “my kitchen buddy” helping me plan and cook one or two dinners per week. One bread-baking option for busy people is the approach taken in a new book “Artisan Breads in 5 Minutes a day” and a follow up book by the same authors.
But even if you don’t want to learn to bake bread (but it is sooo satisfying!), making simple, wholesome food in large batches (like spaghetti sauce, lasagna, blintzes or dumplings, soup, chili) that can be frozen in smaller batches and reheated in the mornings is the way to go for busy parents with several kids (while the food is reheating, you can be assembling other parts of lunch or dressing for work).  I also bake a tray of bar cookies, cut, individually wrap and freeze them to put in school lunches.  I know this isn’t exactly health food, but have you ever read the ingredients list on commercial cookies?  And, again, think of the forbidden food principle.  One thing I also do is I ask my son for his opinion each time I send something new to learn what he likes and what works well in his lunch bag.
I know we are all busy and tired and frazzled, but if you have the desire and a little motivation, it is possible to change your eating habits- at home and at school!  One approach is to start small- can you pack one healthy lunch per day?  Then two, then….

(I have a garden blog for those of you interested in gardening, Central Virginia Organic Gardener, come visit and post any questions you might have).

NOTE: all guest bloggers have contacted me of their own free will, have given consent, do not know me personally, and are not receiving compensation. 

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34 thoughts on “Guest blogger: Alternatives to school lunches

  1. I too "opt out" of the school lunch system. I make panini sandwiches on Sundays and pack them during the week for my younger son. I also make mini pizzas, homemade pot pies, and other things to mix it up a little. My high school aged son eats at school and wouldn't be caught dead with a brown bag lunch! I just do the best I can!!

  2. I think Judy is hitting the right points here. Not so much about tending a garden, or even making things from scratch. If we want our children to eat healthy foods when they're away from us, *WE* need to be the ones to teach them, and set an example for them. So many parents feed their children junk, and let them eat junk at schools because that's what they were taught growing up, and that's what they are now teaching their children. There is always time to make a quick healthy dish. There are affordable healthy food sources available. It's having the knowledge of how to utilize those things that will make the difference.

    Mrs Q, Jamie Oliver, and so many others have good intentions with trying to change America's school food systems, but it isn't going to do a lot of good in the end if the parents don't participate in the healthy eating habits of their children.

  3. Senior year of high school I opted out for the most part. I packed all of my lunches. I was very thankful that my cafeteria had a microwave availible for student use so I was able to reheat leftovers so I had a varity to eat. My favorite was always the turkey sandwiches on homemade bread with cheese and lettuce. I wish I had opted out a long time ago. The table that I said at during first semester actually liked what I packed and all except the home baked good was healthy.
    For children who are a little older, I think it's important that they should help pack their lunch so you're packing what they'll eat.

  4. I packed my kids' lunches for all their years of school so far. Because GROSS! Who would eat that stuff if they had another option?!?!? This year, now that they're in 9th and 6th grade, I decided to have them start packing their own lunch. It just didn't seem right to pack a high schooler's lunch.

    Their favorite thing to take is quesadillas. So most weekends I make a few dozen. In the morning they make their quesadillas on the pancake griddle, and add in a fruit and some sort of snack.

  5. Well, that didn't make any sense! I make a few dozen TORTILLAS each weekend – using half organic butter & half olive oil. Most people that try them can't even tell it's olive oil.

    It took me forever at first, but I have a press and now that I'm used to it, I can get it done pretty quickly.

  6. OOOPS! I just realized who would eat that stuff on purpose…the owner of this blog! Sorry!

    And actually, I have to admit that when I taught in public school I often ate from the cafeteria because of the low price and the fact that I was too wiped out at the end of every day to contemplate fixing any more lunches than my kids'.

    And sorry for monopolizing the comments. In any case, I'm making up for my usual reading without commenting…

  7. As a mom of three busy girls & a little boy on the way, I am grateful that I am able to be a sahm. My oldest daughter is 9 and the only one in school. She also happens to be a type one diabetic. I have packed her lunches for the past few years. Every once & a while she asks to have school lunches (not so much lately, she says the food at school tastes really bad this year). I was shocked at the card count from a typical school lunch. It is not unusual for one school lunch to equal 120+ carbs. My daughter is on a 1 to 15 carb ratio for insulin. This means she would need 8 units of insulin to cover such a meal. That is a lot of insulin. When her lunch is packed at home it is easy to keep the carb count to 65 or less. On a side note this is the first year my daughter has asked to pack her own lunch & sometimes the carb count is a tiny bit higher (around 75-80). I have allowed her to take on this responsibility because I know she will eat what she packs. I still supervise but this has allowed a new sense of responsibility for her. She now has a hand in taking care of her health & well being. It's a great way to allow your child the chance to understand a better way of eating. For her it is not just a way to stay healthy but a matter of life or death. If a juvenile diabetic doesn't take care of their health it can cause many complications much earlier in life that a normal healthy child doesn't have to worry about.

  8. As a kid, my mom always packed my lunch because it was cheaper than buying school lunch every day. Oh, how I begged her to let me buy hot dogs, tater tots, pizza, and ice cream! To which she responded with her characteristic "are you kidding me? What, do you think money grows on trees?" So I made do with my peanut butter sandwich, apple, and thermos of milk. Sigh….

    I wholeheartedly agree with Judy that breadmaking is a worthwhile skill. I'm a veteran cheapskate who's been making her own bread since the tender age of 16 (I'm 32 now). It tastes better, it is much cheaper than packaged bread (you can buy a 5-pound bag of flour for about as much as 1 storebought loaf; you're going to get at least 10 loaves out of that bag). Making bread is much easier than you think, and kneading is a real stress reliever — speaking as someone who's endured 9 months of unemployment, breadmaking would be a GREAT new hobby for an out-of-work parent!

  9. The “forbidden fruit” principle/theory is very, very true. I'm 18 and my parents never allowed my sister and I to eat anything they deemed "unhealthy" (an opinion I've learned to question. They've recently decided that milk is bad for us.) Now that I've grown up, it's not so much the issue that I'd eat Lunchables and soda every day if I could, (and I used to try, before I figured out just how horrendously unhealthy they are). The issue now is that I don't know how to feed myself properly or healthfully, which is one reason why I'm reading this blog.

    Growing up, my parents relied completely on the "No" system. Everything was "full of sugar" or "way too fattening", but there was never any compromise or offer of healthy alternatives.

    Thankfully I'm away at school now and can get my 2-3 meals a day without much interference. But there are still times that I need to buy myself food for my dorm (study snacks, quick breakfasts, etc), and I'm still pretty shocked that I've been allowed to buy Nutella and NutriGrain bars. And juice! We were never allowed to drink juice at home. It's too full of sugar.

  10. We opt-out as well. Our school lunches are $3.25 per child and with three kids in the school, it is just out of our price range. Coupled with the fact that I can pack three lunches that are way healthier for less money. I am always amazed at the huge portions that are handed out — and then thrown away — at school. Whatever I send to school, comes home. So I can keep a good eye on who needs more lunch, who needs less so we don't end up with waste.

    Our school allows both a morning and afternoon snack for kids, which they bring from home. I have been present in the classroom and neither the morning or the afternoon snack that these children are bringing are healthy. They would be considered "treats" in my house, not snacks. And there is a social componant to who brings the yummy snacks.

  11. I am a Sophomore in High School in San Francisco, California. Just recently, I've heard about Mrs. Q on AOL. I used to think that school lunch was a better option for me than going out because my school has an open campus. Most students would go out and buy pizza, fried food, burgers, fries, etc. which I knew was not healthy for me. The pictures of the lunches that Mrs. Q upload to the website are almost identical to the ones we have here, except we don't have the steamed veggies. Now that I know that I'm supporting these lunches by eating them, I will opt out and hopefully get my friends to.

  12. I was fortunate enough to go to a well-funded school district where the administration had the luxury of being able to buy locally and offer healthy options. We had a salad bar at every level of school, made-to-order wraps and sandwiches from middle school on, and a smoothie/juice bar in high school (and yes, they used real fruit). Ingredients and nutritional info were always posted. As a result, I almost never opted-out. And to be honest, it's only been reading this blog that's made me realize how lucky I was.

    I do have to agree with the homemade bread idea, though. If you're not much of a baker, consider a bread machine. I have a heavy-duty one that's close to 20 years old, and it's never made a bad loaf of bread. I love being able to control the ingredients, as well. Sodium and sugar levels in processed bread are out of control.

  13. I applaud any parent that will pack a wholesome homemade lunch for their child. All too often I (and the administrators) see the most junk coming out of the sack lunches at our school ~ mega bags of chips, soda, packaged oversize cookies, candy, ramen noodles, easy mac, lunchables …all prepackaged sodium heaven junk! Very few parents take the time to pack their students a good wholesome lunch. Homemade is always best…you as a parent have total control over what is going into the mouths of your children.

  14. Very interesting. As I'm not yet dealing with sending my child for lunch, this brings up some issues I hadn't considered — like heat. You warm up food in the morning and it's still warm when consumed — when? Three hours later? Four? Food safety guidelines recommend keeping food under 40 degrees or over 140 degrees for storage, is that possible? If so, how? I can see a thermos keeping soup hot, but what does "well wrapped" pizza sandwiches involve?

    Thanks for the post, and any follow-up comment you're able to provide! I'll need all the info I can get by September when I start packing lunches myself!

  15. Well, not total control SpottedCow. I'm sure trading goes on.
    I have 2 girls the youngest is still in highschool she does take her lunch every day. She does bring home what she doesn't eat.

    The oldest is allergic to peanuts so she took her lunch everyday when she was in school. I can remember the year I made homemade bread for her lunches and she ate the inside of the sandwich and threw away the bread. I didn't find this out until after a field trip when the kids had to eat in the classroom because lunch time was over. I quit packing bread and started making whole wheat for me, not the child.

  16. We have to remember that many kids who eat school lunch are not doing so because their parents don't have time to pack a lunch, but because they are on the free lunch program and their parents cannot afford to provide a lunch from home. At the school where I teach, well over 50% of our kids are on the free lunch program. They really have no option to bring a healthy lunch from home.

  17. I have just stumbled on this blog and applaud the authors for their voices!

    We are blessed, our school system here in a middle Tennessee county is awesome! My children are in elementary and middle school. Their food is served buffet style(even the little ones serve themselves) and on most days includes a salad. The kids are offered several varieties of milk, including flavored low fat, and acidophiles milk. They are encouraged to eat their veggies and other healthy choices. Breakfasts are also served in this fashion, the only complaint I have is they offer the kids everyday a pop-tart, often times the kids will have that and a milk or juice for breakfast.

    The parents may go in on any given day and eat with their kids, they are charged the same as the teachers, we have done this several times and the food is always very good, and well balanced!

    The kids recycle, and their food scraps are separated, I believe these are picked up and used either for compost or pig food.

    They are allowed to purchase items like ice cream after their meal is finished, it is not part of the meal, nor is it payed for under the free lunch program. I was impressed this is not abused, one would think kids would be buying the ice cream daily but from what I have seen it is more of a treat than an every day item on their lunch tray.

    The first time I saw this in action I was totally impressed, it gives the kids a choice in meals(they usually have 2 hot and one cold choice), it teaches them portion control and teaches them good skills in dealing with their waste. They use reusable trays so their only trash is the milk containers and the disposable silverware.

    A note about recess and snacks, the elementary school has 2 and a snack time, the middle school doesn't. The kids at both schools are allowed to have water bottles during school, and are encouraged them to use them. The snacks are brought from home and are monitored by the teacher, if a student brings in an "unheathy" snack they are coached by the teacher and encouraged to bring in something different. Some of the teachers ask the parents to send in prepackaged snacks or fruit to go into a snack basket and the kids pick from that each snack period.

    Our community definitely lives by the phrase it takes a village to raise a child!

  18. I'm curious when we as a culture started to shift so many of our responsibilities as parents onto the schools.

    YES, if the school is providing lunches to our children, they should be healthy options, safe and nutritionally adequate. There is a definite problem with a lot of the school lunch programs out there. But at the end of the day, it is what we feed them at home that really makes the difference in the long run.

    I remember a kid I went to school with, Even, was in front of me one day in the lunch line. He always got the ridiculous "home cooked meal" options on the line, the Turkey Chunks with gravy, or the meatloaf and mashed potatoes… the rest of us were getting pizza. I asked him one day why he never got pizza and he said "Oh, my mom says pizza's not a meal, it's garbage." We were 14 years old and he was following his mom's advice in the lunch line!!

    Guest Blogger – I have always wanted to try baking my own bread. You may have inspired me to go on and give it a shot.

  19. Great post! My husband works in a public school and his lunch options at school are not at all desirable. I've always enjoyed being creative and finding new ways to keep his lunches interesting, nutritious and balanced. Thanks for the new ideas, Ms. Thomas! That PB sandwich sounds delish!

    I also appreciate the overall point that your post makes about lessons of love and respect for food being taught at home. These lessons needs to be reflected and supported in all areas of childrens' lives if they are going to have any true relevance. The home environment is most influential.

  20. I would LOVE to be able to find a thermos that keeps food warm. Everything I've ever tried in the past 15 years is cold by lunch. Even if I fill it with boiling water to preheat it – nothing stays warm.

  21. As a 23 year old now, I wish i had eaten more home made lunches. I was in the ag department alot in high school, and we had our own refrigerator and microwave so we could eat up there. no lines for the microwave, but im sad to say i did eat school food once in a while, and now i wish i didnt because of all the bad practices i have learned of now. Kids really need to learn where there food comes from, not just the grocery store

  22. I work full-time and look forward to my Wednesday night bread-making marathon. It's a chance to let out my frustrations with my boss as I knead the dough for 10 minutes. I used to use a machine, but the kneading is my favorite part! The creativity with different flours, seeds, nuts and fruits is endless and so satisfying. There's a lot of down-time waiting for dough-rising so I have the luxury of putting my feet up, sipping some herb tea and catching up on some TLC or Facebook. I start the process as I finish cleaning up dinner and the last loaves are out by 10:30pm. The fresh-baked bread smell is heavenly and lingers into the AM and the fam loves awaking to toasted Fresh Whole Wheat-Flax Bread with peanut butter and fresh fruit. I send some hummus and bread and left-over salad or a Turkey/Cheese/Lettuce Sandwich and Apple for lunch. Takes 5 minutes to pack. What is so hard about sending our families off with healthy food?

  23. When my girls were in middle and high school I'd take a half a store-bought whole wheat pita ,throw a slice of real cheddar and some garden salad in, pour the tiniest bit of Italian dressing on and wrap in plastic wrap. Soon I was hearing from other moms in the community "Why do you have to make those Pita Sandwiches? Now I gotta get up and make the kids lunch".I smiled, but it truly is sad.

  24. We've been "opting out" for almost 4 years, when my daughter began boycotting school lunches due to the terrible quality and taste. Given the poor nutritional value, it was kind of difficult to argue with her!

    I would recommend parents invest in a high quality thermos or two so you can send warmed leftovers. My kids bring soups and chili, stir fries, meat and beans for soft tacos, pasta, fried rice, even eggs in their thermoses. We found the cheaper ones simply didn't keep foods hot/cold long enough and have never regretted spending the money on wide mouthed, good quality ones.

    We were also lucky to find a sale on chillable salad containers this fall. I have one that is basically a large bowl with a freezer pack in the lid and another that holds lettuce in a bowl with a freezable divider tray (to keep veggies & meats/cheeses separate) that fits between the bowl & the lid. Both have a separate dressing container that snaps into the lid and stays chilled. I'm able to send tossed salads, cut veggies w/dip, chef or taco salads, etc. I could also use them to send fruit salad or fruit w/dip or yogurt so it's really added to our options.

    With an investment in the right equipment, almost anything you make for dinner can be sent for lunch. I now always make a double batch of tacos, fajitas, spaghetti sauce, soup/chili with the expectation that it will also be used for lunches.

  25. Of course having healthy, wonderful meals from home is most often the best option, but at the schools that serve the most disgusting food, the issue is more often about money than it is about health.

    At my school, 54% of the students eat either free or reduced lunches. Their parents may not have leftovers from the night before to pack, and they certainly can't afford sushi – even as a treat. The parents from my district do not need merely "the desire and a little motivation" to change their children's eating habits; they need time, and they need money.

    Despite the fact that the author acknowledged the poorer populations, I find her post idealistic and viscerally repulsive. Quite frankly, the author's situation, her children's school, the time and money she can afford to spend, are not the issue; the problem with school lunches is that many students eat them or starve. We have a responsibility to do better for the lowest common denominators.

    I apologize for being combative. I don't truly have an issue with the author who sounds like a wonderful mother and seems to take marvelous care in raising her children. I am angry at a system and at a society that allows such a disparity between how children grow up. I am angry because I cannot ensure that the kids at my school eat fresh bread, and fruit, and vegetables. I am angry because as a society we are failing these children.

  26. I have to agree with Anonymous @ 5:05 PM. It's fabulous that so many parents make their kids healthy lunches to take to school, and even more fabulous when kids do it on their own. But in this post I read an implicit attitude of, "Well, *I* care enough to make my kids' lunches, so why can't all these other parents?"

    There are a whole lot of single moms (and dads) in this country who work two jobs and still don't get paid enough to buy high-quality fresh vegetables and other ingredients. Even if they did, these moms and dads literally do not have the time to plan and make their kids' lunches. And as has been said, in many school districts 50-100% of the kids eat free or reduced lunches, and for some of them, that may be the only meal they get at all that day. We need to improve school lunches for the kids and parents who have no other option, not telling them, "If I do it, why can't you?"

  27. I also opt-out of school lunches for my children. I like knowing what my children are eating each day. Not only that, but I work full-time as a teacher, and have seen some of the offerings that come out of the cafeteria.

    The first school district I worked in (in an urban area) simply had ovens in which to reheat the pre-sealed, pre-cooked food. There were no alternate options past the two choices of the day, and fresh fruit or vegetables was infrequent (enter the fruit cup or fruited jello, or even the juice bar popsicle; usually the latter). Beverages were limited to white or chocolate milk. No frills, no extras. These meals were the only meals some of my children had all day!

    My new district (in a new state, in a suburb) offers students four choices a day, with fresh fruits, veggies, yogurt, string cheese, and 'healthy' snacks such as 100% fruit snacks or Sunchips as extras. Beverage choices are water or white, vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry milk. Even so, the main dish for most of the lunches (and breakfasts!) are quite scary.

    I am a label reader. To not know what my children are eating (ingredients, salt, sugar, preservatives, etc.) does not comfort me, especially after I've seen some of the mystery offerings appearing on trays. Especially after reading the post about pizza containing 62 ingredients.

    When I think of the difference between the schools, I'm reminded of the many studies that show supermarkets are not in easy acess to inner-city residents. Many residents rely on the corner store or a drugstore like CVS for groceries. (That's where my students' families shopped until they could make their bi-monthly trek to a market out in the suburbs.)

    I recently saw a news clip on one of the evening shows that highlighted a new supermarket in the Philadelphia area. The market was placed in the inner city, in an area where there were NO supermarkets. NONE! One of the ladies interviewed said she previously did her shopping at Walgreen's or something like that because there weren't any markets where she lived. The neighborhood was so happy because of the offerings of fresh fruit and vegetables!

    This whole issue makes you think about the priorities of the powers that be, those folks who are supposed to be looking out for their communities, but instead are shortchanging children. Honestly…children?!? The future of the country? The folks who will be making decisions that will affect their, your, and my old age! And yet, we are not providing them the basic nutrition to help them be effective learners.

    Something definitely has to give.

  28. I am appalled that this is seen as an either-or option. Yes, opting out is an alternative, but should not by to the exclusion of fixing the school food system too. Opting out is a privilege that many cannot enjoy, and by saying "I'm done, it's not my fight" disenfranchises all those who do not have a voice in this fight.

  29. Are there really that many families who cannot afford to pack a simple, healthy lunch for their children every day? I don't buy the "don't have time" excuse for anyone – that's about priorities. But to have that many children coming from families that don't have the money to feed them lunch says to me that there is a bigger problem that needs to be addressed. Perhaps school lunch programs shouldn't even really be needed?

  30. @Marianne – so if there really are "that many children coming from families that don't have the money to feed them lunch", how does removing school lunch programs help?

    Many students only get one or two meals a day-the free breakfast (if available) and the free lunch program. Taking those meals away would not benefit the children who depend on them to survive.

    As a child, I received free lunch throughout school. I rarely had cereal available, so lunch was usually my first meal of the day. Dinner usually consisted of just enough, sometimes not enough (rice with tomatoes, ramen etc)depending on how close to either payday or the day food stamps were issued. In high school we had an open campus and NO ONE ate at the cafeteria, except for a few handfuls of free-lunch kids all spread out at the tables eating alone. Too embarrassed to participate in that I would walk around the park nearby and munch on 2 pieces of quarter jerky and drink a generic soda that all totalled a dollar (my grandma sent us each $5 a week for "allowance") at the butcher shop a few blocks from the school. Then I got a part time job and had money to buy slightly better lunches for myself.

    I will quickly admit that my refusal to take part in free lunch in high school was not stupid. And I am sure that some of the kids who did brave the cafeteria did so out of necessity because they would not have a hot meal later that night. But the first nine years I did and regardless of the nutritious quality it kept me full.

    One of the main points of Mrs. Q's blog, which you might have missed, is that there are children who depend on it for their survival, and districts that cannot afford to provide more nutritious and more appetizing (who cares if something is nutritious if its really gross in the eyes of an 8 yr old) are jeopardizing the health of their students, and there is nothing they can do about it until more funding is available to schools.

    (Sorry for the run-on sentences.)

  31. This is probably the wrong place to post this, and I haven't read enough of this blog to really join in the conversation yet. But as a teacher, cook, and mom this is something I feel strongly about. I was wondering to what extent the lack of women who need a job, any job, and also have cooking skills effects school lunches? It can't really be cheaper to buy heavily processed food, I know that buying beans and rice and onions is cheaper than buying any prepared food. But that only works because I know how to cook. It's the larger factory mentality of this country, we think workers should be robots, stupid and mindlessly doing their job. Cooking well within a budget takes skill, and god forbid we hire anyone with skill in this country. Sorry for the rant. Great blog!

  32. I agree. Middle class families are the ones who usually do opt out of school lunches because they have the time and resources (like having a yard to plant a garden) to make a child's lunch every day. I worked at one school where 90% of our students had free breakfast and lunches every day, and for many of them, that was the only hot meal they had. School breaks were brutal on them: often there was only one parent at home. For some families, that one parent worked two or more jobs just to make ends meet. For those families, the idea of having a couple free meals–regardless of the quality or nutrional value–a day is a godsend.
    So by opting out, you're basically ensuring that nothing will change. You don't see a reason to change a system you don't take part in, and those that do take part are simply delighted that it exists at all.

  33. I worked at a program in a school in a very poor area, and when one of the younger kids was asked "What's your favorite thing about school?" he replied, "I get breakfast". It was heartbreaking. Of course there's a larger problem here, but the very least we can do is make sure that if we're providing food for these children, it's the most nutritious food possible.

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