Chicago school bans bag lunches

At a heavily Hispanic Chicago school, students must eat the school lunch or go hungry. Home-made lunches are banned at Little Village Academy, reports the Chicago Tribune. The principal says the school lunch is healthier.

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!”

Fernando waved his hand over the crowd and asked a visiting reporter: “Do you see the situation?”

“Nutrition wise, it is better for the children to eat at the school,” Principal Elsa Carmona said. “It’s milk versus a Coke. But with allergies and any medical issue, of course, we would make an exception.” Carmona created the policy six years ago after watching students bring “bottles of soda and flaming hot chips” on field trips for their lunch.

“Dozens” of Little Village students threw most of the school lunch in the garbage uneaten during the Trib’s visit.

Though CPS has improved the nutritional quality of its meals this year, it also has seen a drop-off in meal participation among students, many of whom say the food tastes bad.

Little Village students usually qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch.  The full price is $2.25, which is more than most parents spend for a sandwich, carrot sticks and an apple. (I always put in a pickle. My daughter hated the school lunch.)

Update:  Should schools ban chocolate milk?  Seventy percent of milk consumed at school is flavored, reports the Washington Post.  Often children consume more sugar and calories than they’d get by drinking a Coke.  But milk consumption declines by 37 percent at schools that ban chocolate milk, says the National Dairy Council.

Nutritionists, meanwhile, have split between those who think chocoloate milk is worth the payoff in nutrients and those who don’t.

“Trying to get students to consume calcium by drinking chocolate milk is like getting them to eat apples by serving them apple pie,” said Ann Cooper, a leading advocate for healthy school lunches.

In my day, it was white milk or nothing.  Of course, we also got hideously sweet apple brown betty for dessert.

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  1. I think this is silly. My kids don’t always like the lunches at school. Even is the principal doesn’t like it, I think some snacks are okay in moderation.

  2. The point isn’t a matter of whether they like it, it is whether the school system can actually do that. I can’t see how this policy could be allowed at a public school. Because of a lesson I teach on lunchroom waste I see what gets thrown away and it seems to be about 50-70% of the food kids bought or brought.

  3. They’re not getting any “nutrition” if they’re not eating it because it’s horrible.

    All the nutritional value in the world on a school lunch is worthless if kids don’t want to eat it.

    But, hey, it’s For Their Own Good.

  4. Counting down to the first Kosher/Hallal/Vegetarian/Vegan/Gluten-Free protests and the growing lists of exceptions in 3.2.1….

  5. “Nutrition wise, it is better…”

    Better than…what? A lot of assumptions being made.
    Of course, the kids bringing nutritious lunches would be punished.

  6. Cranberry says:

    Ahem. 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.

    Also, if more students file the papers to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, does the school get more money from federal and state programs?

    On field trips, parents are usually told to send lunches which can be thrown out, i.e., no reusable lunch bags. Field trips are a bad time to judge the quality of lunches sent from home. I would think that a principal might have time to visit the cafeteria for a week or so to judge the quality of the food.

    This policy trains students to assume that others have better judgement than their families. Do you think they’d try this sort of decree in Greenwich, Connecticut?

  7. I would love to see a class action lawsuit filed by parents against such nonsense. The school SEEMS to think it has the ability to control every aspect of an enrolled student’s life (which is idiocy).

    Go back 30 years ago…if a student walked to school or rode their bike, the school’s jurisdiction STARTED the moment the student stepped on campus and ENDED the moment they left campus. If we wanted to fight, we went off campus, and there wasn’t a dang thing school administration or school police could do about it.

    Move forward 30 years, and public schools seem to want to control every aspect of a child from the age of 6 until they become old enuf to drop out of public school, or turn 18. I can see why the homeschooling and alternatives to public school are growing in this nation.

  8. tim-10-ber says:

    I agree with Cranberry..this is a way for the school to continue to take tax-payer money rather than reduce staff because kids do not want the government food…

  9. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    Attack of the Nanny State once again.

    In simpler times…memories of my elementary school years….

    Here’s to fond memories of trading my turkey sandwich on whole wheatberry bread for some other kid’s PB&J…if I included the Pixy Stix candy with it!

    The food at the school cafeteria at my school consisted of gross fish sticks, sloppy joes (barf) or “mystery meat” burgers. Some kids ate there, with purchased lunch tickets. Most of us brought lunch from home. We ate plenty of candy and food that wasn’t organic, but we also rode our bikes after school and had parents who actually wanted to be our parent, not our friend. There were troubled families, but they were the exception, not the rule. The teachers at the school were concerned with reading, writing, math, etc. and were not under constant testing pressure…there was enough time to do creative, wonderful projects that we still remember today. The principal was concerned with school discipline, not with what we brought to school for lunch. Sexual identity was largely a private matter and left to the realm of one’s family. Self-esteem came after accomplishment.

    What the hell happened??? (A rhetorical question)

  10. Como se dice en Español: “You are a school principal, not the parent, so mind your own f•••ing business?”

  11. Hmmm…. I remember BEGGING to be allowed to buy lunch at my rural PA school…and my parents only letting me about twice a year. This was before ‘satellite food’ Instead, German and Italian ladies baked fresh bread every day, and we had hoagies and pizza bread and mashed potatoes and pot roast and….yum…. but only the rich kids got to buy lunch, because a sandwich and a snack was cheaper (and then we bought chocolate milk to go with.) Once or twice a week you could even buy ice cream novelties! But that was back when no one was obese and we had 3-4 recesses a day….

  12. It’s a tough issue. I teach in a school with a similar population. The money issue is a moot point in that about ninety percent are on free and reduced lunch as is. In NYC, the school itself does not pay for the lunches anyway, so unless there’s some major kickback situation happening (which I doubt), there is really no economic incentive for the principals here to implement this policy.

    Regarding the nutrition argument, many kids in the city come into school with entire sacks of candy, chips and soda every day (enough that it makes you wonder why they can’t pay for their own lunch!). Additionally, I have never seen a single student bring a nutritious lunch packed at home- not one in three years. While I agree that the principal and the teachers should leave parenting to the parents, if many of the parents don’t actually parent their kids in this respect and as a result of it send them kids to school with the least nutritious food on the planet, the ramifications are felt throughout the school. It’s actually seen then as the school’s responsibility when the test scores come down due to a lack of focus and increased off-task behavior resulting from massive amounts of sugar and poor nutrition.

    Still another issue is that many students don’t want to each the lunch because they don’t want to be seen as taking a handout. Of course that makes little sense, but adolescence really doesn’t in general when you’re there. Social and political issues aside, I suppose my point is that this issue is painted in an extremely different light on this blog than it is in low-income, city schools. I’m sure that if the students were bringing nutritious lunches from home, this principal would not ban them from the school.

  13. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Nick James Saith:

    Still another issue is that many students don’t want to each the lunch because they don’t want to be seen as taking a handout. Of course that makes little sense, but adolescence really doesn’t in general when you’re there.

    Grammar issues aside, how completely out of touch with the notion of self-respect do you have to be to think that this “makes little sense”? It makes perfect sense: especially when actual starvation isn’t really an issue.

  14. And then there’s the issue of having all kids eat breakfast at school (because some don’t get it at home). There are even plans to give children dinner at school. I surely understand the desire to make sure that students aren’t going hungry, as some most certainly are, but something is lost when the schools usurp a parental reesponsiblity. How can children see their parents as parents, if the parents aren’t the ones who provide food? I think there needs to be a way to ID children who are truly goiing without, and get them some food, without turning schools into surrogate parents.

  15. SuperSub says:

    Question about the money –
    Federal regulations force lunch programs to be non-profit and financially separate from the district’s budget. Does a district contracting with a food provider get paid some sort of fee that would go into the district’s overall revenues? If so, this would allow districts to use federal lunch assistance to bolster their budgets, and possibly encourage policies like this if the district is paid based upon the number of students served.

  16. I think it is nothing but an assumption that kids who qualify for free lunch are not eating at home. I’d like to see a study that goes into the homes of these kids verifying the belief that starvation is happening. I’m sure there are some kids who live with drug addicts that can’t be bothered to shop, but is this really the majority of kids on free lunch? It’s the same for breakfast. I’ve seen elementary school kids eating these sugar-laden school breakfasts on many occasions; well I should qualify that – I’ve seen elementary school kids throw away a majority of the food given to them in school breakfasts. The school free lunch program has run the course of the typical government program – a goodwill effort to provide food to a tiny minority of underfed children becomes a behemoth, waste-laden program that disincentives personal responsibility. Politicians won’t touch it for two reasons – either they’ll be called children-haters or they will lose fundraising $$ from the companies that sell the “food” to the schools. .

  17. Soapbox0916 says:


    Well I haven’t looked for formal studies, but yes I have seen kids starving or close to it firsthand since I work with the homeless and near homeless. For those of us that actually see this in reality, there is not a need to question it. And things like Little Debbie cakes, one can buy a whole box for around a dollar that lasts for a while compared to fruit that is much harder to find in poor neighborhoods and more expensive.

    However you are right that it is not all free lunch kids. It is only a subset. A local food bank that works with Feeding America that gives backpacks to kids to take home has several layers of criteria for determing which kids actually need food given to them, the free lunch eligiblity is only the very first tier. Maybe it would be better for a non-for-profit food bank to supply the free food to kids in need instead of the school coporations?

    Also as someone with several food alergies, being able to bring in my own food is crucial to me.