ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – A cold cheese sandwich, fruit and a milk carton might not seem like much of a meal — but that’s what’s on the menu for students in New Mexico‘s largest school district without their lunch money.
Faced with mounting unpaid lunch charges in the economic downturn, Albuquerque Public Schools last month instituted a “cheese sandwich policy,” serving the alternative meals to children whose parents are supposed to be able to pay for some or all of their regular meals but fail to pick up the tab.
Such policies have become a necessity for schools seeking to keep budgets in the black while ensuring children don’t go hungry. School districts including those in Chula Vista, Calif.; Hillsborough County, Fla.; and Lynnwood, Wash.; have also taken to serving cheese sandwiches to children with delinquent lunch accounts.
Womanist Musings does a good job of outlining some of the socio-economic critique to such a policy:
“If a parent is laid off because the company that they work for is going bankrupt how are they irresponsible?”
Second grader Danessa Vigil said she had to eat cheese sandwiches because her mother couldn’t afford to give her lunch money while her application for free lunch was being processed.
Now, “every time I eat it, it makes me feel like I want to throw up,” the 7-year-old said.
all i could think of was: ewww…while i was reading this.
The School Nutrition Association recently surveyed nutrition directors from 38 states and found more than half of school districts have seen an increase in the number of students charging meals, while 79 percent saw an increase in the number of free lunches served over the last year.
In Albuquerque, unpaid lunch charges hovered around $55,000 in 2006. That jumped to $130,000 at the end of the 2007-08 school year. It was $140,000 through the first five months of this school year.
Charges were on pace to reach $300,000 by the end of the year. Mary Swift, director of Albuquerque’s food and nutrition services, said her department had no way to absorb that debt as it had in the past.
“We can’t use any federal lunch program money to pay what they call bad debt. It has to come out of the general budget and of course that takes it from some other department,” Swift said.
1. this is not nutritious. simply not. american cheese (with that faint smell of plastic wrapper still clinging to it) slapped between to slices of white bread. who told them this was nutritous? why dont poor kids deserve a nutritious meal?
2. right now i am eating koshary. which is the cheap everybody’s meal here in cairo. macaroni, rice and spaghetti noodles with hot sauce and garlic sauce and cooked beans and chopped fresh vegetables ontop. really cheap. really easy to make. delicious. good for the body. seriously they couldnt serve rice and beans and veggies? seriously? cold cheese sandwiches?
3. why does the school systems decide to humiliate poor children through food? what about the social and emotional harm done to the kids? why use food as a form of stigma?
4. why do the school system insist on giving these kids a meal that consists of white bread and dairy products (considering that alot of them are kids of color and probably lactose sensitive and intolerant)?
5. when you serve kids food like this (and yes i know that hot school lunches are atrocious-i am a public school graduate-but seriously there are degrees of disgusting in the world) what is the likelihood of them learning well in school?
That’s pretty horrible. I remember having to get reduced or free lunch at school and being embarrassed to show my card. However, in high school, the cafeteria lunch was much better than the chips and soda my friends ate. There’s something seriously wrong when chips are much more affordable than veggies.
Why cheese sandwiches? Why not peanut butter and jelly? It doesn’t cost much more and is much more nutritious. It also doesn’t require the same storage problems as cheese.
Ah, but the government doesn’t subsidize bean farms like they do dairy ones, no? Bean lobby not as strong.
This makes me apoplectic. Access to food is a human right. So is healthcare. Or they should be. And you wouldn’t need to pay as much for healthcare if children ate well, ran and played, and got enough sleep. ahdhgfklahgkf,nk,n
“seriously they couldnt serve rice and beans and veggies? seriously? cold cheese sandwiches?”
seriously seriously seriously!
I’m also feeling the “ew” …
Huh. I guess I wasn’t picturing processed cheese on white bread. I never knew that was called American cheese. That sounds truly gross. The cheese sandwich I would make would be good and healthier. But yeah, the hot lunches I’ve heard about don’t sound too much better.
1. Agreed. Cheese is terrible, just terrible. There is nothing healthy about cheese.
2. My nephew’s school offers grilled cheese and PB&J for the vegetarian and vegan kids. PB&J is fine in my opinion – and CHEAP, by the way – but they need more options. Beans and rice sound great!
3. I think the stigma comes after, not before. That is, the schools can’t afford healthy food and don’t know any better, so they feed terrible foods. Then, instead of fixing it or apologizing, they stay slap on a stigma to the kids who have to eat that crap.
4. Schools get and use dairy products because the government gives it to them. The gov’t gets it because they bail out dairy farmers’ “excess.” Essentially, cows and kids are punished because politicians can’t develop good policy.
5. You’re right – there’s a strong relationship between nutrition and academic performance. Kids who eat well, do well in school.
I just attended a nutrition seminar (Dr. McDougall) and Pam Potter spoke about school lunches. She explained some of the problems and how to fix them. Basically, caring, educated adults have to step in and commit to the long haul. It’s an uphill battle, but very worth doing.
as much food they throw away at the end of the day, they can’t let the children eat regular meals? pulling them out the lines isn’t necessary. they didn’t even feel the need to make it a grilled cheese. all around lousy.
PS, found this at Animal Person:
Of course health is the department they take the money from. Not the $300,000 that the superintendent probably makes every year. Or whatever else they have in an elementary school. But I agree with everyone else… if they can afford cheese sandwiches and milk, they can afford something healthy.
I don’t know about schools in the States but up here in Ontario many schools don’t allow pb due to nut allergies. However, there is an alternative spread that is sold in stores called “pea butter”…of course, it goes without saying that any ban on nut products in schools does not forgo finding alternatives to serving gross cheese sandwiches on white bread which are low in nutritional content!!!!
I wonder if there is an underlying assumption that cold cheese sandwiches, as opposed to rice, veggies and beans, is that this food is in keeping with the diets of low-income and poor people and therefore there isn’t a harm: it’s a cost-efficient “punishment” for “irresponsibility” that really isn’t a punishment at all because it’s what they eat anyway.
If this is right, the stigma precedes the decision to offer cheese sandwiches to these children; they aren’t stigmatized by the food option.