Madison schools serve free dinners

Some public schools in Madison, Wisconsin are serving a free dinner to  students who participate in after-school programs.  That’s in addition to federally subsidized breakfast, lunch and post-school snacks, which are free only for children from low- and moderate-income families.

Just before 5 p.m. Wednesday, as Falk Elementary’s Safe Haven after-school program was winding down, students lined up to wash their hands for dinner.

The menu for the Madison School District’s new dinner program included turkey sandwiches, fruit cups, broccoli and chocolate milk.

It’s healthier food than the soda, sugary candy, snacks and fast food some students will eat before going to evening activities or homes with working parents who prepare later meals, after-school program director Kelly Zagrodnik said.

If the school has enough low-income students, then all students in after-school programs are eligible for a free meal, regardless of family income.  Federal funds — $2.86 per meal — cover the cost.

Mayor Paul Soglin wants free dinners at all schools to entice children to sign up for after-school program, which include “access to tutors, mentors, study skills sessions, supervised recreation and sports.”

Are there families who’d pass up after-school activities — and free child care — unless their kid could get a 5 pm dinner?

A student could eat breakfast at home, breakfast at school, lunch, after-school snack, early dinner at school and late dinner at home.  No wonder  childhood obesity is our greatest national security threat.

Or perhaps parents are supposed to stopped feeding their children at home, so the school can do it better.

Madison is a relatively affluent town, writes Ann Althouse.

About Joanne


  1. True story from my school: a white single dad goes to Safeway and buys boxes of Trix and microwave meals for his three kids. They feed themselves. They come to school looking sickly. The dad is trying, but TV ads have probably formed the bulk of his nutrition education. I think we need to be charitable, not scornful, toward such people. Admit that big business pours billions into mis-educating our citizens. Trix is not food, yet we’ve been brainwashed to think it is. Where in our society is the honest education about nutrition occurring?

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      We can blame Big Business for advertising and mis-education, but the real culprit is the federal government and academics both of whom shaped our national nutrition policy based on agricultural subsidizes and very bad science.

      Everything most people “know” about diet and nutrition is actually scientifically wrong.

      From the New York Times article by Gary Taubs:

      “If the members of the American medical establishment were to have a collective find-yourself-standing-naked-in-Times-Square-type nightmare, this might be it. They spend 30 years ridiculing Robert Atkins, author of the phenomenally-best-selling ”Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution” and ”Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution,” accusing the Manhattan doctor of quackery and fraud, only to discover that the unrepentant Atkins was right all along. Or maybe it’s this: they find that their very own dietary recommendations — eat less fat and more carbohydrates — are the cause of the rampaging epidemic of obesity in America. Or, just possibly this: they find out both of the above are true.

      When Atkins first published his ”Diet Revolution” in 1972, Americans were just coming to terms with the proposition that fat — particularly the saturated fat of meat and dairy products — was the primary nutritional evil in the American diet. Atkins managed to sell millions of copies of a book promising that we would lose weight eating steak, eggs and butter to our heart’s desire, because it was the carbohydrates, the pasta, rice, bagels and sugar, that caused obesity and even heart disease. Fat, he said, was harmless.

      The book to read is:

      • The difference is that Big Business miseducates by design. The health experts did it by mistake. Both misleaders might done less damage if America had stronger cultural traditions a la Japan or France. The traditional diet in those countries is healthier than what General Foods and the hubristic MDs have prescribed. Neither capitalism nor a certain variety of myopic rationalism can abide people hanging on to their traditions.

        • Stacy in NJ says:

          I slightly disagree with you. Capitalism doesn’t give two sh*ts whether or not people hold on to their traditions or not. They simple want to make money from whatever product they can convince the public to purchase whether or not it’s “traditional” or not. Depending on your definition of traditional, opium is traditional. They’ll happily sell “organic”, low-fat, whole grain, grass-fed – whatever the public wants – they’ll sell. That’s what capitalist do. Now, if you want to talk about captured government – the deforming and incestuous relationship that develops between business and government – now that’s real corruption, although it’s also quite traditional.

          • What I meant is that aggressive capital will plot to blow-up any customary way of doing things if it appears to be an impediment to profit making; e.g.:

            1. General Foods et. al. convincing America to give up porridge and pot roast for Trix and TV dinners.

            2. GM et. al. buying out and shutting down trolley and light-rail systems around the US to pave the way for an auto-centric civilization.

            3. Post-conquest mine operators in Peru subverting Andean Indians’ self-sufficient ayullus (farming communities) so they’d need money and therefore need to labor in the mines.

            4. Mall developers killing the custom of going downtown to shop at locally-owned small businesses.

            5. Silicon Valley’s relentless mission to prevent ANYTHING from becoming customary. The euphemism is “innovation”. A better term might be “planned obsolescence”. The moment we finally learn a software program or gadget well, we must purchase a new one.

            6. The whole realm of entertainment is more and more commercialized. No more DIY barn dances, sing-alongs, or village bacchanals; now you buy an iPod, download iTunes, fly to Disneyworld, pay for Comcast, stroll around a joyless “festival” that’s really a thinly-disguised marketing event..

            7. The custom of having a lot of middle class jobs in America does not suit capitalism. Legions of quasi-slaves yield more profits.

            8. Public schools as currently constituted are an impediment to profit making. Discrediting them and replacing them with non-union,for-profit charters and on-line academies will enrich capitalists.

            9. Big Oil sowing doubt about global warming so that we continue our oil dependence. Conserving the planet doesn’t profit them.

            It seems to me that if we really want to conserve anything worth conserving, we have to be willing to curb capitalism’s clever–but-amoral energies at times. Free market fundamentalism and conserving-the-good-stuff are often incompatible.

          • Stacy in NJ says:

            Umm, yeah, quasi-slaves? You’re drinking too much Kool-aid. Oh, wait, who makes Kool-aid? Must be an evil corporation.

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            4. Mall developers killing the custom of going downtown to shop at locally-owned small businesses.

            Mall developers did that by providing something–malls–that people discovered they preferred to going downtown.

            Why is that wrong? And, if you think it is wrong, what gives you ( or people who think like you) the right to force people to behave the way you think they should?

            BTW: I hope you never shop online. Talk about “creative destruction.”

        • Don’t blame big business for malls, which offered longer hours and convenient, one-stop parking, while many downtowns did nothing to keep customers. The Downtown Merchants Bureau in the small city where my family shopped competed: the main shopping street was made pedestrian-only, a large parking garage was built on an adjacent side street, the merchants matched the mall’s evening and Sunday hours, and some vacant space was turned into an indoor mall with underground parking. That was over 30 years ago and downtown still is the go-to spot for shopping, dining and entertainment. Most of the national specialty stores, like Eddie Bauer, Ann Taylor, Williams Sonoma, JCrew, Crate and Barrel, Gap, Banana Republic etc, are there and there are many local stores, including an excellent, full-service grocery with many specialty products and a large carryout/dine-in menu.

          In contrast, the downtown in the small city where I now live, didn’t compete, lost its customer base and has never regained it. I rarely go there, but I always go downtown when I visit back home.

          Government schools do not compete well and their reputation is deservedly suffering.

          • Mom, I think you can admit this truth: competition is not a requirement for doing excellent work. Does the US military do a good job only because it’s competing, or does patriotism and esprit de corps and good ol’ work ethic have something to do with it? Do doctors, nurses, librarians, Mother Theresas, diplomats, and teachers do good work because of competition? What motivates me to pour time and energy into my teaching is complicated: fear of letting down my students; an appetite for crafting something beautiful and good… The thought of competing with other teachers or schools does not factor in. (Lack of competition doesn’t make Finnish or Korean schools suffer). Competition can yield good things, but talking about it as a panacea seems simplistic and false to me. And I think intellectual honesty demands one other admission: competition can be very destructive too. You speak as if the thousands of dead downtowns deserve their fates and that the malls gave our society a net benefit. Just because the malls “won” doesn’t mean, ipso facto, that they should have won, and that the rotting of our historical city cores isn’t a real loss for our society. Look at how Europe conserves its architectural heritage –they put us to shame.

            Stacy –regarding “quasi-slaves”: how would you characterize the workers at poultry processing plants in northern Georgia, or the meat packers in Colorado, or call center workers in Texas, or Foxcon workers in Shenzhen, or any of the other low-wage, no-rights, work-at-breakneck-speed-or-get-fired jobs that abound…?

          • Roger Sweeny says:


            How is it possible for call center workers to be paid so little and work under such poor conditions? Because there is little competition for their services. If they have alternatives, they’re not going to work at a crappy job.

            How would there be more competition for their services? A better economy. More usable skills on their part.

        • Stacy in NJ says:

          Also, the assertion that health experts did it by mistake is false. Ancel Keys the scientist who led the movement to vilify dietary fat knew his studies were manipulated and fraudulent. The government panel that codified Keys’ findings (led by George McGovern) wanted them to be true because they benefited farming states, and they were amply warned that the studies were inconclusive.

          Our current obesity epidemic was caused by the self-promoting scientists, politicians, government bureaucrats, and, yes, capitalist looking to take advantage. Capitalists aren’t tasked with looking after the public interest; scientists, politicians, and government bureaucrats are. They hold the greater responsibility.

  2. This is an example of the old adage of “if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” If kids are coming to school hungry, the school can only do one thing: feed them. Even if a different solution, administered through a different vehicle, would be better. I’m so strongly in favor of parents being the ones to feed their children that I think the only meal that should be served at school is lunch. If parents don’t have enough food to give their kids breakfast and dinner, then give those parents food stamps. Or even boxes of good cereal and oranges. Don’t take away one of the main bonds between parents and children.

  3. GEORGE LARSON says:


    Does the US military do a good job only because it’s competing? Yes, coming in second in a battle is not good for a soldier’s health. The US armed forces are an up or out organization

    Do doctors, nurses, librarians, Mother Theresa, diplomats, and teachers do good work because of competition?

    Probably not but doctors and nurses have their work is evaluated by autopsy, statistics and adherence to protocols. Do teachers have similar standards, protocols and evaluations?

    Humanitarians often compete for funding from philanthropists and governments.