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Nanny State: Chicago School Bans Bagged Lunches to Encourage “Healthy Eating”

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By HVculture on April 11, 2011

There are so many social issues to unpack in the revelation that some Chicago-area public schools do not allow their students to bring in bagged lunches from home and require them to purchase lunch from the school cafeteria. Let’s start at the beginning.

The Chicago Tribune reports on Little Village Academy on Chicago’s West Side where this policy has been instituted. A spokesperson for the Chicago Public Schools could not say how many schools follow this policy because that decision is left up to each individual principal.

Little Village Academy Principal Elsa Carmona said her intention with the no bagged lunch policy is to “protect students from their own unhealthful food choices.”

But that assumes, of course, that the parents of her school are incapable of making healthy food choices for their kids. Obviously, this will be the case for some parents, but not all. It also assumes that the lunches provided to the school by Chartwells-Thompson are nutritional. If Chartwells-Thompson’s food is anything like those school lunches featured on Jamie Oliver’s reality show about how awful school lunches are, then no, they probably are not that nutritional.

But to better understand the decision-making of Carmona, wouldn’t it be helpful to know what sorts of meals are being served at the school? Maybe they are super nutritional, healthy lunches. Full of flavor and necessarily dietary supplements. Or maybe it’s frozen pizza, loaded with grease and pepperoni. It’s difficult to judge without knowing the specifics.

Further compounding the problem is the revelation that 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.” While the Chicago Tribune doesn’t delve into this deeper, it’s suspicious enough to raise the question: do principals of Chicago schools get kickbacks for instituting school lunch-only policies?

Each school lunch costs $2.25, or $11.25 per student per week. Depending on how many students parents have in school, that sum of money can add up quickly. Then, there’s this:

During a recent visit to the school, dozens of students took the lunch but threw most of it in the garbage uneaten. 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.

“Some of the kids don’t like the food they give at our school for lunch or breakfast,” said Little Village parent Erica Martinez. “So it would be a good idea if they could bring their lunch so they could at least eat something.”

“(My grandson) is really picky about what he eats,” said Anna Torrez, who was picking up the boy from school. “I think they should be able to bring their lunch. Other schools let them. But at this school, they don’t.”

But parent Miguel Medina said he thinks the “no home lunch policy” is a good one. “The school food is very healthy,” he said, “and when they bring the food from home, there is no control over the food.”

Healthy or not, if kids aren’t eating the lunches provided for them, what good does that do? If you’re a parent wouldn’t you at least prefer the option of what’s best for your family — being able to balance nutrition, cost feasibility and whether or not you have time to prepare lunch?

If anything, these policies represent the worst of the Nanny State. Family dynamics are different from family to family. What works for one doesn’t work for all of them. Shouldn’t the options for what children eat at school come from the parents and not from a food caterer?

(Photo by Monica Eng, Chicago Tribune)

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