Food and Nutrition

Chicago School Bans Kids from Eating Moms' Lunches

| by The Volokh Conspiracy

By Jonathan H. Adler


In some school districts, there is debate over whether to sell chocolate milk at school. Some schools require more healthier formulations, while others bar it altogether. Fairfax County and D.C. schools, for instance, do not offer chocolate milk in elementary school the Washington Post reports.

In Chicago the issue is not chocolate milk, but lunches brought from home. The Chicago Tribune reports:

At . . . Little Village Academy on Chicago’s West Side, students are not allowed to pack lunches from home. Unless they have a medical excuse, they must eat the food served in the cafeteria.

Principal Elsa Carmona said her intention is to protect students from their own unhealthful food choices.

“Nutrition wise, it is better for the children to eat at the school,” Carmona said. “It’s about the nutrition and the excellent quality food that they are able to serve (in the lunchroom). It’s milk versus a Coke. But with allergies and any medical issue, of course, we would make an exception.”

That’s one justification. Yet as Calvin Massey notes, the Tribune story suggests a less noble explanation for the policy, and it may leave some kids hungry.

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.

At Little Village, most students must take the meals served in the cafeteria or go hungry or both. During a recent visit to the school, dozens of students took the lunch but threw most of it in the garbage uneaten. Though [Chicago public schools have] 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. . . .

A Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman said she could not say how many schools prohibit packed lunches and that decision is left to the judgment of the principals. . . .

For many CPS 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.