February 25th, 2011
03:04 PM ET

Fit Friday: Healthier lunches bust in Chicago, tackling non-payments with cheese sandwiches

It’s nothing new to hear kids sum up their cafeteria food in one word - “nasty.”

After all, some school lunches looks like bland, pre-made slop devoid of any nutrition.

But a major overhaul to serve healthier foods at the Chicago Public Schools has faced new problems. The public school system stopped serving doughnuts and Pop-Tarts, and lunch sales dropped “by about 5 percentage points since the previous year, or more than 20,000 lunches a day,” according to Chicago Tribune.

Many of the kids didn’t even touch the healthier options such as boiled broccoli, zucchini and a pea-carrot mix.

The meals “appear to have created negative impressions of healthy foods among many students,” according to the paper.  This could be, because the school system “forbids the use of salt in the preparation of vegetables or other fresh food offered to students.”

No dough means cheese sandwiches

Schools aren’t exactly striking it rich with school lunches.  They’re struggling to feed children while remaining financially afloat, because of the number of nonpayments.  These add up fast.  Since 2004, New York City has absorbed at least $42 million in unpaid lunch fees, according to the New York Times. That means it’s hitting school budgets and educational resources.

Some school districts are offering an “alternative” lunch for kids who can’t pay.

The Lee County, Florida, school district was losing $2,000 a week from families who were not paying for meals.  Since they are required to provide nutritious meals to students, they started dishing out cheese sandwich and a juice box for kids not paying for their meals, according to CBS.

Is this creating a two tiered-lunch system - making kids who are not paying, for whatever reason, feel stigmatized? Is there a right to equal lunch, despite the family's financial inability or skipping of payments? Comments below.

Eatocracy: Students going hungry

Lunch ideas for you

If your kids aren't likely to touch school cafeteria lunches, here are some upgrades from the old PB and J from Real Simple such as apple, cheddar sandwiches on whole wheat to prosciutto, roasted red pepper sandwiches.

Also from Real Simple's 21 back to school lunches kids love, it suggests crisp bacon, wilted arugula and sautéed tomatoes pastas and chicken salad with apple and basil.

10 fresh lunchbox ideas from Parenting toys with cranberry, turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread, and homemade Lunchables.

For more complicated and artistic inspiration – or just to feel  inadequate–  check out BentoforkidletJustBento or Lunch in a box.

soundoff (141 Responses)
  1. R.H

    You do know that in government schools if a child recieves reduced or free lunches they carry a label of "disadvantaged," right. The more kids that carry this broad label the better for the individual school as they recieve more funding per student with such as well as have an easier time filling quotas in special programs to continue to receive funding for these programs. As a long time public educator told me...if you use any of these special resources your child mearly becomes a warm body.

    February 28, 2011 at 07:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Jeff

    I'm a vegetarian. I chose to be because of health issues. When I saw the photo for the 'click to play' I almost gagged. Boiled
    broccoli and canned green beans are supposed to be healthy fare? The issued here is having people who know how to prepare healthy food. In our house we have absolute feasts that we sometimes can't eat fast enough because they are so good. What they have done with the lunches in this story is gone from bad to really bad. They they say it didn't work, no one can eat a healthy diet and like it, and revert back to the old ways. When I packed my own lunches people would comment, "That looks really good and smells so good. What is it?" I wasn't munching on carrot sticks or eating a boring salad.

    February 28, 2011 at 08:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. jake

    End school lunches. If you can't afford to feed your own kids, you should be reported to Social Services and your children should be given to someone who can afford them.

    February 28, 2011 at 10:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. ASC

    Schools have two choices: make appropriate options available to choose or estimate what will be profitable to their investment.

    Students arrive at school as results of the parenting that they receive at home or the absence of it. Either way no one should expect the school to perform their role and transform a fast food, bag of chips and sugar juice kid into a health eater. Its just not their role and its too late to do anything but roil the situation.

    I'm sick of schools asserting themselves as capable of things that are parent privileges similar to morals, ethics, personal finance, religion, personal health and diet.

    March 1, 2011 at 06:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. HOLLY

    Of course the kids are rejecting the schoollunches!! What kid voluntarily eats boiled green beans or mixed peas and carrots–especially if they are boiled 45 minutes ahead of time and then sit there til someone decides to reheat and then eat them. You can make their favourite meals more healthy so they still eat it and it is better for them. Such as making veggie pizza with low fat cheese. Or roasted chicken with a good side salad...instead of chicken fingers that are fried. My high school mostly sold poutines ( canadian meal–fries, cheese curds and gravy–so good but so bad) and fries. They also used to greet us with the smell of chocolate chip cookies in the morning. And at 25 cents each–some people would buy 4 cookies or more. That is how they started our cafeteria experience every morning. Plus, the schools should try to get the parents on board at home so that the kids are seeing the same food at home that they are seeing at the cafeteria.

    April 4, 2011 at 17:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Scott

    I've been living in Europe for 3 years(Military assignment) we just arrived back to California one months ago. What the heck is going on with this country? I am truely scared for my county. My wife and I have been teaching our children spanish (not so they can get good grades in school!) We have been teaching them spanish so when the time comes they can escape this place. As Americans we wrap ourselves in the word "Freedom" but are we really free? After living in Europe and looking at this county from a distance, it has become clear to me that we have less freedom in the county, and the only difference between the free world and the not so free world is we enjoy the comfort of a well funded brain washing program. Welcome to communism 2.0 jerks! Enjoy your school lunch state run children of Chicago. If anyone needs me I'll be in the mountains of Cuenca raising rabbits, mostly being free, smoking cigarettes, feeding my kids candy.

    April 11, 2011 at 14:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Andor

    Why, oh why everybody feels that schools are responsible for feeding children???!!!! School are to feed their minds, not to make them fat and content. The entire system should be separated from the education! Franchise should feed kids. franchise should get the money from the state for the poor. If the parents feel that their kid shouldn't get food at school, and refuse to pay for lunches, let them take responsibility for the well being of their kids. This is supposedly a free country.

    May 7, 2011 at 17:16 | Report abuse | Reply
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