Chicago Public School Bans Bagged Lunch

Taken by Monica Eng of the Chicago Tribune

It appears some schools aren’t just banning peanut butter from the lunchroom. Little Village Academy, a public school in Chicago, recently announced its decision to ban kids from bringing bagged lunches to school altogether.

The Principal of the school, Elsa Carmona, told the Chicago Tribune that her intentions were to get students to eat healthier.

“Nutrition wise, it is better for the children to eat at the school,” Carmona said. “It’s about the nutrition and the excellent quality food that they are able to serve (in the lunchroom). It’s milk versus a Coke. But with allergies and any medical issue, of course, we would make an exception.”

I was unable to get in touch with anyone from the Little Village Academy or the Chicago Public School Nutrition Prgoram, and seeing as though I’ve never been there firsthand, I can’t make any concrete statements on the quality of the food being served. But I know from my own experience in grade school, the lunches being served were not what I would consider healthy. And yes, milk is the standard for school lunches, rather than soda, but is sugar-jacked flavored milk really that much healthier? (More than 70% of the milk distributed in school cafeterias is flavored, according to the Milk Processor Education Program.)

The Chicago Public School system has recently made efforts to increase the nutritional standards of school lunches. But I still have my doubts as to just how healthy the lunches being served to, and now practically forced upon, students really are. I doubt 100% whole grains are being served with every meal, nor high quality proteins or fresh vegetables. Instead, I expect “wheat” bread, which reflects enriched flour as the first ingredient with an inadequate amount of whole wheat flour included, along with dead vegetables/unripe fruit that the kids are likely to throw out, and maybe a bag of low-fat chips (as if the low-fat label qualifies them as healthy).

While I don’t know exactly what these kids are eating, I can say almost for certain that parents are capable of packing a higher caliber, healthier lunch, presumably at a cheaper price too. The nature of mass-produced school lunches simply doesn’t allow for this right now. With parents being given two options–pay $2.25 a day for lunches their kids might not even want or send their kids away from lunch hungry–the bagged lunch ban seems a bit absurd to me.

Sure, not every parent fully knows how or makes the effort to make a healthy lunch. But if you’re really looking out for kids’ overall health, why not devote a little time to educating parents on how they can pack healthier lunches? Consistent education may give parents healthy ideas for meals outside of school as well.

Health education is definitely not as easy as it sounds, but banning bagged lunches certainly isn’t a suitable solution to up the health ante of kid’s diets.

What are your thoughts on the Chicago Little Village Academy lunch ban?

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  • Reply
    Tracey @ I'm Not Superhuman
    April 14, 2011 at 8:52 am

    Well this is just the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard all week. It’s straight out of a good dystopian novel. Parents should absolutely be able to provide their kids with bagged lunches. Aside from the fact that, as you mentioned, school lunches generally aren’t that much healthier than what you can make at home, parent’s shouldn’t be forced to pay for a lunch when they could easily make it with food they already paid for at home. Not only that, but what about picky eaters? Should they starve because the school lunch isn’t something they’d like (as appetizing as canned green beans are) or should they get a lunch they’ll actually eat from their parents.

  • Reply
    April 14, 2011 at 9:34 am

    I am glad to see someone else heard/read this story. I have food sensitivities that trigger eczema, as a child neither my family or my doctors had any idea food triggered the skin condition. I cannot eat soy, milk, citrus, strawberries, tomatoes, and so on. Due to my skin issues I would not want to give up control of what my kids are eating. Also, what about those who are on Kosher or other cultural diets?

    I don’t think parents should be ban from sending peanut or almond butter sandwiches with their kids. Kids with peanut allergies should eat lunch in a different lunch room, or let those who want to eat nut-butter sandwiches have their own room. Peanut/Almond butter replaces meat by products in vegetarian and cultural diets, so more people suffer for one student with a peanut allergy. (There is one school they are making kids rinse their mouths 3x a day with mouthwash and use chronic hand sanitizer because of one child with a peanut allergy).

    Finally the costs is outrageous, you could potentially spend $405.00 per child per school year.

    • Reply
      April 14, 2011 at 12:49 pm

      In some cases the PB reaction is very severe, so eating in another room still poses risk. If a child comes in and did not wash their hands well, it could trigger a response. I have seen some children where just having the PB in the same building and then it being opened triggered a reaction. It can be serious and for the safety of the child, I think caution should be taken. No child should have to feel like they are an outcast because of an allergy. They should not be forced into homeschooling when there is an easy solution. Kids that want PB and other nut butters can find an alternative when in school and eat the PB at home. Of course it really depends on how severe the reaction will be. In some cases, just going to a separate room might be appropriate and a good choice. Anaphylactic shock is no fun. I would hate to see how upset children would be if a classmate collapsed next to them and stopped breathing. I work in a middle school and we had one student pass out from not eating breakfast. It looked like there may have been a mild seizure too. The students were very visibly shaken for the rest of the day and some even a few days later.

  • Reply
    April 14, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    This is interesting. I wonder if their standard of nutrition is up or improving as a result of ADA headquarters there, and a high concentration of RDs there. Like when I go to Atlanta and I see way more public health messages than anywhere else because the CDC headquarters is located there. I know our schools have very poor options, so I wonder what this school is offering. If the principal is working with a dietitian, it could be a good thing, but I know that foods kids don’t want to eat, the won’t eat and it increases waste. We throw tons of veggies away each day in the cafeteria at our school (which has k-12 all in one building).

  • Reply
    April 14, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    I don’t agree with this….what if a parent wants their child to eat healthier meals, and knows that the school wont provide it?

  • Reply
    The Candid RD
    April 14, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    This article realllllly made me mad!! While I’m happy to hear that people care about what children are eating in schools, I would be very angry if I was a parent of a child at one of these schools. Like you said, I feel that I am capable of packing healthy foods that my children would actually EAT, and not throw away….who has the right to tell a parent they can’t pack their child’s lunch?! It’s absurd.

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    Chicago Public School Bans Bagged Lunch | CookingPlanet
    April 16, 2011 at 7:42 am

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