Wednesday, April 13, 2011

When Big Brother Becomes the Lunch Lady

Let me state the following for the record:

1. I think it’s a wonderful thing for public schools to teach children about healthy eating habits and inform them about all the cool things that good food can do for one’s body . . . as well as the distinctly uncool things unhealthy food can do.

2. I applaud the classes formerly known as Home Economics – my middle schoolers’ Home Ec classes were called “Family and Consumer Science” – which teach children how easy it is to prepare healthy meals that also taste good.

3. I am on board when school officials – from teachers to administrators – encourage children and parents to bring healthy foods for lunch and snack times.

4. When there are students with airborne food allergies, I think it’s appropriate for the school officials to take steps to protect the students with the allergies. No one wants a kid to get sick because the child came in contact with a peanut butter sandwich.

5. I wish there were more physical education classes.

6. I wish the Picket Fence Post family lived close enough to my kids’ schools so that they could walk to school each day, therefore encouraging daily exercise.

7. I further believe that, in their role as members of the school department, it’s laudable to be concerned about children’s health and well being.

All of that being said, I would never want school officials telling me that I can’t send a lunch of my choosing to school with my children (allergy issues notwithstanding). I wouldn’t want them confiscating the snacks my children bring into school simply because the food items don’t represent the same "healthy" choices they would’ve made had they been my children’s parent.

But that’s what happening in some Windy City public schools. Seriously.

The Chicago Tribune profiled a public school on the west side of the city, Little Village Academy, at which “students are not allowed to pack lunches from home,” the paper said. “Unless they have a medical excuse, they must eat the food served in the cafeteria.”

The principal told the Tribune that she was protecting the students: “Nutrition-wise, it is better for the children to eat at the school. It’s about the nutrition and the excellent quality food that they are able to serve (in the lunchroom). It’s milk versus Coke.”

The paper said the students have two choices: Eat school lunch or “go hungry.”

The same article highlighted another Chicago public school where “officials allow packed lunches but confiscate any snacks loaded with sugar or salt.” Say "bye-bye" to that bag of Oreos.

Schools are educational institutions, not prisons where you get the food they put on your tray or nothing else. Both of these policies step waaaaay over the line and infringe upon parental rights, although I’m sure the school officials mandating that students buy lunch have dollar signs in their eyes with guaranteed revenue for crappy fried mozzarella sticks or lukewarm American chop suey.

A blogger for The Stir put it more bluntly in her post entitled, “School Thinks Moms are Too Dumb to Make Kids’ Lunch.” “Let me be the first to say bull-pucky,” wrote blogger Jeanne Sager. “If I can’t make healthy enough food for my child, pray tell me, why are you even letting me be her parent? Are you going to take her shoe shopping too? How about finding an orthodontist? Paying for it? Yeah, that’s what I thought. I’m not responsible enough to take care of my kid . . . until it starts to inconvenience them.”

What do you think about these school lunch/snack policies? Overstepping or overdue?

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