School Lunch, A Gift to All Moms

  • Policy & Advocacy
  • May 11, 2017
  • By: Mara Fleishman
  • Comments

Packing a lunch for my kids has never been much of an issue. I used to take a lot of pride in packing a healthy, organic lunch that had a broad spectrum of textures and flavors. When I zipped that lunch box up and put it in my kids’ backpacks there was a feeling of satisfaction knowing that my kids were going to have a great day because I packed them a great lunch.

At the time, I never considered the repercussions of my kids opting out of school lunch. When I got up early to carefully craft a nutritious meal for my kids, I just thought I was doing the best I could for my kids.

This all changed when I was watching a movie called, What’s on Your Plate one day. In it, they interviewed a Mom that was living on the poverty line. When they asked her about her kids’ health and what they were eating, she started to cry. I could see the shame she felt for being a mom who was not able to provide her kids with a healthy meal.

  • First, I don’t believe any parent should feel ashamed about the food they are able (or are not able) to provide to their child.
  • Second, I don’t think it’s fair that children who come from a wealthier household get to fill up on the proper nutrients that allow them to excel in school while children from low-income families do not. For those students, their only option is to eat a meal provided by the school, and when most school lunch in the US is still a plate of highly processed food with no fresh ingredients, those kids are not given the same opportunity to perform their best.

If I were a struggling parent trying to make a better life for my family, it would be a huge weight off my shoulders if I could count on my child getting a healthy lunch at school that would help them focus in class and reach their full potential.

Once I started learning about the nuances of school food, it changed how I felt about packing my kids lunch. I learned what regulations guide school food, how it gets funded, and all of the barriers schools face when they try to cook using healthier, fresher food.

I learned about the financial position that school food service teams are in. There is not much wiggle room for extra funding to cook better meals. For children coming from low-income households, the federal reimbursement rate for lunch is around $3.33. For students that do not qualify, the school typically receives only $0.30 per meal.

What this means is that schools have just over $3 in most cases to feed a child a meal, but that has to include the costs of labor and administrative costs. In most cases, that leaves less than $1.20 for the actual food.

It’s hard to get good, quality ingredients for a meal with $1.20 to spend on the food. It’s even harder if you don’t have enough kids eating school meals. For schools that have higher percentages of kids that are on the free and reduced meal program it’s actually easier. Their participation numbers are higher and their food service program can rely on a certain number of meals they will sell, allowing them broader maneuverability with purchasing and labor. With districts that have lower percentages of kids on the free and reduced lunch program (like mine at 22%), it’s harder because you have less volume in purchasing and less funds for developing the program.

Now that I work in school food, I try to get my kids to eat school lunch as often as possible. Yes, I do live in Boulder, CO and yes, we have one of the best school food programs in the country, but I still face some of the same issues most parents experience when trying to get their kids to eat school food.

  • They don’t always like what is on the menu.
  • They say they don’t have enough time to eat after they go through the lunch line.
  • And the most popular reason: my friends don’t eat school lunch.

I can’t say I’m successful all the time but I am getting my kindergartener to eat school lunch about 3-4 days a week and my daughter in high school will eat school lunch about 1-2 times a week. My middle school-aged daughter is a tougher case. She is very picky and particular. 

I may not have the perfect solution, but what I know is that as a busy, working mom, school lunch makes my life much easier. I also know that the more my kids eat school lunch, the better opportunity there is for our lunch program to thrive in Boulder Valley. I know that I want every mom that I see at my kid’s school to feel good about what their kids are eating for lunch, and I want their kids to have the proper nutrition to succeed.

So, for Mother’s Day this year, ask your kids to eat a school lunch. Not only does it save you time you would have otherwise spent packing their lunch, it also gives the school a chance to provide better quality food, and perhaps most importantly, it reduces the stigma surrounding school lunch and levels the playing field for all kids.

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