Mandatory School Lunches?

By now, you may have seen this article, detailing a school in Chicago with a new mandatory school lunch program- as in, barring a medical condition, all children must eat (and purchase) the school’s lunch. Obviously as a vegan, that makes my hair stand on end, as if I ever have children, I plan to raise them vegan. School lunches=not vegan.

The logic is that the school lunches are healthier than what children bring from home- especially things like Coke and potato chips. Is the cafeteria lunch really the best answer, nanny-state issues aside?

When I was in elementary school, my parents went away for a week and left me with one of my mom’s friends. I typically brought my lunch to school (most often a sandwich, an apple and a juice box). One morning her friend was packing lunch for me, and I saw her put a can of Sprite in- and I simply said “I’m not allowed to bring soda to school!”

I don’t ever remember being told that I couldn’t have soda at school, but it just wasn’t done. Why can’t they just ban soda from schools instead of making everyone eat the schools lunch? I know it would be much harder to enforce a ban of all junk food (though not impossible), but start with something simple. I’m not that old; it wasn’t that long ago when kids didn’t even try to bring soda to school.

Then again, I grew up in a nice suburban/semi-rural area. While there wasn’t a grocery store in walking distance, everyone had a car, so grocery shopping was easy. Maybe that’s the real reason for the problem at this school- parents don’t have access to healthy foods to send with their kids.

It’s not unheard of for schools in other countries to have a “mandatory” school lunch- it’s common practice in France. (You can check out this video to learn more, but be warned, there’s a lot of carcasses being fed to French children). However, in France you have the option of having your child come home for lunch if you wish.

American school lunches can’t exactly compare to the French school lunch experience.

I work in a residential treatment center (sort of a boarding school for kids with psychiatric illness). Lunch is provided to staff (only those who want it, of course), and since there’s a salad bar, I often partake. Today I brought a cucumber and onion salad to go along with my lettuce and such. Out of habit, I picked up some cucumber for my salad from the salad bar. When I got back to my office, I had organic cucumber I brought, next to the cucumber from the school, which is served to a few hundred people each day. One tasted like cardboard- the other was delicious (I’ll let you guess which).

Are we really going to foster healthy eating habits in children when we force them to eat tasteless vegetable?

I don’t know if there are easy answers to this problem, but I don’t think mandatory school lunches are the answer. After all, are you really going to tell me that school lunch is better than this?

There are so many healthy options that could be sent to school with kids. Let’s not take those away!

And in case you want help on what to give your child for school lunch, there are some cookbooks to help you with that. Jennifer McCann’s Vegan Lunch Box and Vegan Lunch Box Around the World are both full of delicious, kid-friendly recipes that can easily be packed for a school lunch (e.g., they don’t have to be heated). Show your child’s school that you don’t need any stinkin’ school lunch mandate by providing your child with an awesomely healthy lunch!

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