Chicago School Bans Brown Bag Lunches, But Is It for the Kids?

Students at Little Village Academy can't eat anything except the food served in the cafeteria.

Millions of American kids take sack lunches to school every day, either because they don't like the school food or because their parents aren't psyched about the nutritional quality—think tater tots and greasy chicken pattiesoffered on campus. Now in an interesting twist on the lunch debate, a growing number of schools say that their efforts to make mealtime healthier are undermined by parents who pack junk food in their children's lunches.

Six years ago, Little Village Academy, a 100 percent Hispanic pre-K through eighth grade public school on Chicago's West Side, put a stop to junk food coming from home when they banned their 780 students from bringing any lunch, period. Students can't eat anything except the lunch the school provides.

What's on the school menu? More vegetables and less junk food—Chicago Public Schools adopted healthier school food guidelines last year, largely eliminating junk food like doughnuts and nachos, and increasing the amount of vegetables on menus. But kids hate the school food and say it tastes bad. They end up chucking much of it in the trash and lunch sales across the district have dropped 5 percent since the menu change.

Principal Elsa Carmona told The Chicago Tribune that kids are better off nutritionally if they eat the food found in the school cafeteria. But, as the Tribune notes, there is a financial incentive to making kids eat the cafeteria meal.

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.


Carmona says her interests aren't financial. She just wants to protect her students from gorging themselves on Flamin' Hot Cheetos. But, if she's really interested in the kids' health, she might be better off teaching parents to purchase and prepare healthier food. After all, if a kid doesn't eat all day because she hates the school food, what's stopping her from busting open a bag of chips when the bell rings? And do Carmona and the entire teaching staff set a positive example by eating the lunches provided by the school cafeteria too?

photo (cc) via DC Central Kitchen

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