To motivate parents to pay school-lunch debts, schools are serving an alternate meal, usually a cheese sandwich to the children of deadbeats. In Chula Vista, lunch debts fell from $300,000 in 2004 to $67,000 in 2006 with the advent of the cheese sandwich, reports the LA Times. But parents complain that cheese has become the sandwich of shame, humiliating children for their parents’ forgetfulness.
Most schools across the country have introduced alternate meals, said Erik Peterson, a spokesman for the School Nutrition Assn., an Alexandria, Va.-based organization for school nutrition professionals.
Orange County’s Capistrano Unified School District serves crackers with peanut butter or cheese. The Los Angeles Unified School District gives children half a sandwich and a piece of fruit. Peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches are a common alternate meal, but not a very effective one.
“It seemed to be one of the children’s very favorite meals, so that wasn’t productive,” said Beth Taylor, nutrition director for the Johnston County School District in North Carolina, where such sandwiches were tried. Taylor said switching to vegetable and fruit trays changed everything. Among last week’s menu items for students with lunch balances: crunchy cole slaw, fried squash and steamed cabbage. “The outstanding debt has been reduced to nothing,” she said.
Districts with lots of low-income students have no problem: The federal government funds lunch. It’s middle-class parents who neglect to pay for lunch but want their children served anyhow.