Michelle Obama's America: Chicago School Bans Bag Lunches to Protect Kids from Themselves

The Chicago Tribune reported Monday that one Chicago public school -- the Little Village Academy -- has banned bag lunches...to protect the kids from their own "unhealthful" food choices:

Principal Elsa Carmona said her intention is to protect students from their own unhealthful food choices.

"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."

Carmona said she created the policy six years ago after watching students bring "bottles of soda and flaming hot chips" on field trips for their lunch. Although she would not name any other schools that employ such practices, she said it was fairly common.

A Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman said she could not say how many schools prohibit packed lunches and that decision is left to the judgment of the principals.

"While there is no formal policy, principals use common sense judgment based on their individual school environments," Monique Bond wrote in an email. "In this case, this principal is encouraging the healthier choices and attempting to make an impact that extends beyond the classroom."\

But reporters Monica Eng and Joel Hood suggest there are other reasons than a nutrition crusade: "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." But if they're really concerned about a learning environment, what if the kids don't eat?

At Little Village, most students must take the meals served in the cafeteria or go hungry or both. During a recent visit to the school, dozens of students took the lunch but threw most of it in the garbage uneaten. Though CPS has improved the nutritional quality of its meals this year, it also has seen a drop-off in meal participation among students, many of whom say the food tastes bad.

"Some of the kids don't like the food they give at our school for lunch or breakfast," said Little Village parent Erica Martinez. "So it would be a good idea if they could bring their lunch so they could at least eat something."

"(My grandson) is really picky about what he eats," said Anna Torrez, who was picking up the boy from school. "I think they should be able to bring their lunch. Other schools let them. But at this school, they don't."

But parent Miguel Medina said he thinks the "no home lunch policy" is a good one. "The school food is very healthy," he said, "and when they bring the food from home, there is no control over the food."

At Claremont Academy Elementary School on the South Side, officials allow packed lunches but confiscate any snacks loaded with sugar or salt. (They often are returned after school.) Principal Rebecca Stinson said that though students may not like it, she has yet to hear a parent complain.

"The kids may have money or earn money and (buy junk food) without their parents' knowledge," Stinson said, adding that most parents expect that the school will look out for their children.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis