Is it ever OK for schools to ban lunches brought from home?

It's easy to get outraged over the story in this week's Chicago Tribune about public schools like Little Village Academy on the West Side of Chicago not allowing parents to send lunch with their kids. It's government overreach. Michelle Obama encouraging parents to feed children more healthfully is one thing, but a school stopping parents from feeding their own kids is an offensive obstruction of rights.

Before fully committing to that opinion, imagine being a teacher in a lower-income area. Maybe you are one. If so, you know what it's like to work day in and out to help kids rise up in the classroom only to watch them eat brain-starving, body-harming lunches. You also know that it's a serious issue because the incidence of diabetes and heart disease in these areas are much higher. Six years ago, after seeing too many soda cans and chips pour out of students' lunch sacks, Principal Elsa Carmona mandated that all students without special food restrictions eat the school-prepared lunch, a measure which she tells the Tribune has become common practice.

But the flip side of the argument is lengthy, reasonable, and more affluent, which means it will probably win the day. There are the parents who want to send their kids to school with lunches that are more nutritious than what the school provides. How healthy could those be anyway? There's also the fact that in schools with this policy every family that can afford it now must pay $2.25 for the school lunch, which one mom attests is much more than the cost of a healthy sandwich. And there's the dubious issue of the school district's meal provider, Chartwells-Thompson, making money off the mandatory plan.

Kids have picky palates, too. The Tribune reports, "[d]uring a recent visit to the school, dozens of students took the lunch but threw most of it in the garbage uneaten." Many of the kids just wished for the right to bring their own sandwich and fruit to school, while one honest boy admitted to the Tribune that he'd bring Lunchables sometimes if he could.

Choose mandated school lunches, and kids with healthy-minded parents lose. Let lunches from home in, and kids of fast-food addicted families lose. Maybe it's a numbers game. Go with the decision that supports the greater number of kids. Maybe it's a civil rights issue, and no one should tell you what your child eats. Perhaps schools should focus on teaching healthy eating so the next batch of parents will make better decisions without being forced to.

Where do you stand?

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