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Brown-bagging it? You can't at this school

A Chicago K-8 public school doesn't let kids bring their own lunch, in the interest of better nutrition.

By Karen Datko Apr 12, 2011 5:36PM

Chicago public school principals are permitted to ban brown-bag lunches at their schools, and at least one educator has done that.


Elsa Carmona told the Chicago Tribune her Little Village Academy provides a more nutritious lunch than many kids would pack from home -- so they can eat the cafeteria lunch or have no lunch at all. (The policy is waived if a kid needs special foods for medical reasons.)


It's difficult to find anyone online who thinks this is a good idea. Let's examine the arguments: Post continues after video.

Why deprive parents of a frugal choice? If your family doesn't qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch, you have to fork over $2.25 a day in the cafeteria -- much more than fruit and a sandwich would cost.

Or is it? Jonathan at My Money Blog calculated the cost of his brown-bag lunch in 2008 at $2.60 a day just for a sandwich (the ingredients weren't on sale) -- Black Forest ham, pepper jack cheese, lettuce and tomato on 12-grain bread. "JLP" at All Financial Matters came up with $2.55 for a sandwich plus chips (again, no fruit). PB&J or a slice or two of American cheese on store-brand white bread would be cheaper, but those get old, even for kids.


In fact, the school lunch is often the frugal option for low-income families. "VelvetJinxx" wrote on the High Gloss and Sauce blog:

The community with the lunch ban has a median income of around $32,000 a year. What does that buy you in the city? Think about it. Raising a family that includes school-aged children on a budget that would squeeze a single person in an urban area does not leave much room for expensive, healthy, delicious foods. ... 

Parents can provide a more nutritious lunch. Stories and photos of unappetizing and fattening school lunches abound. (Chicago high school students last year demanded that the district start providing healthy food.)


Parents insist they can do better. "Betty Crocker," commenting at Chicago Now, wrote about her child's school:

I pack my son's lunch and it is healthy: a sandwich on whole grain bread, fruit and a snack. I saw what the cafeteria was serving: french fries, hamburgers on white bread and canned fruit.

On the other hand, the Little Village Academy principal said she made the rule six years ago at the K-8 school because some parents weren't holding up their end of the deal.

"Mrs. Q," who writes about school lunch issues at the Fed Up With Lunch blog, also is skeptical:

But can we be sure that home lunches are healthy and satisfying? Here are two recent examples from my students:

Lunch example 1: Two donuts.
Lunch example 2: A ham sandwich on white bread, a donut, a banana, a bag of hot chips.

Should the "two donut" kid be forced to eat school lunch? I'm asking that rhetorically because I really don't have an answer.

That's really what this comes down to: Should parents have the right to feed their kids without the nanny state stepping in? Many think so, including Michael Logli, who wrote on the Banner Graphic's Writer's Block blog:

A school can ban Doritos and Pepsi and only offer juice boxes or fruit juice or the like in vending machines. It can even, as my high school did, put markers next to the food in vending machines and in the lunch lines that show what is good and what is bad. But forcing a child to eat only what the school provides, especially if the children do not like the food, as demonstrated in the story, is absurd.

Americans believe that school lunches should be more appetizing and more nutritious, but schools haven't uniformly reached that goal. Could that fact detract from their credibility on this issue?

The New York Times reported:

A study of more than 1,000 sixth graders in several schools in southeastern Michigan found that those who regularly had the school lunch were 29 percent more likely to be obese than those who brought lunch from home.

More on MSN Money:

Apr 12, 2011 5:52PM

They are not the parents.  Period.  It is their job to teach, not to force them to eat this or that. 


Also, it doesn't matter how nutritious the food is (which I think is dubious), nor is it frugal if it does not make it down their throats.

Apr 13, 2011 9:14AM
" have to fork over $2.25 a day in the cafeteria -- much more than fruit and a sandwich would cost....Or is it? Jonathan...calculated the cost of his brown-bag lunch in 2008 at $2.60 a day just for a sandwich (the ingredients weren't on sale) -- Black Forest ham, pepper jack cheese, lettuce and tomato on 12-grain bread. "

Good Lord, I know most of the on-line reporters don't make that much money. Do they have to parrot the foolish spending of high income writers?  Do you think they're getting 12-grain bread, Black Forest ham, etc. in the school lunch???

I guess they also figure it costs a lot to get kids to school: putting gas in the Hummer and buying $499 outfits sure wears out the budget, doesn't it?

Many of us don't buy the Black Forest ham.  We buy the Costco ham that's 3 lbs for $8.00.  Seriously, this week I bought really good freshly-sliced baked ham on sale for $3.99/lb at a supermarket deli and thought I was splurging!  We go to Aldi and buy American Cheese for $2.99/lb or the "cheese product" individual slices of 12 oz. for $1.79.  We buy the 99 cent loaves of bread, the store brand mustard, and either the 18 cents a can store-brand soft drinks or the Pepsi, etc. products NOT on sale at Costco for 29 cents a can or on sale for 21 cents/can.

$2.25 is an excellent price for lunch [it IS government subsidized for all kids at all public schools - which is why teachers normally pay double], but you can beat that even without sale prices.

A thick sandwich - 1/4 lb of ham, 1/8 lb [three slices!] of cheese, is about $1, less than $1.25 including the bread and mustard.  That is NOT on sale prices.  Throw in a 20 cents worth of store-brand chips/pretzels in a ziplock bag (4 cents each in bulk at Costco) and a soft drink and you're up to $1.75 MAX. 

And if you want healthier lunches, you can do soup.  A can of condensed vegetable soup at Aldi is 49 cents a can.  Or salad.  You can do a great chicken-lettuce-tomato-onion-bell pepper-shredded cheddar cheese for less than $1.50 and often that's leftovers.

And that is what America does to save money - WAKE UP WRITERS!

So one wonders why there is any challenge in the article about low-priced lunches.  Are the writers really that out of touch with America?
Apr 13, 2011 4:58AM

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