In the U.S. the debate with regards to school lunches never seems to settle. Advocates for lunch boxes, or brown-bags, argue that school lunches are not healthy enough for the children. Others say that removing school lunch completely would entail graver and more direct problems. This essay will argue for keeping the school lunch and the importance of improving it. The main reason people want to remove school lunches concerns the quality of the food itself. Their charge gets support from a 2009 study, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, showing that 94 percent of school lunches actually fail to meet the regulatory standards set by USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) (Christensen, 2011). Some people go on to say that school meals represent a significant cause for the increasing obesity in the U.S. Their charge is sustained by Whitmore Schanzenbach’s report showing that ”school lunch eaters do experience higher obesity rates than brown baggers” (2005).
Yet another element prompting some to opt for removing school lunches is the packaging waste related to it. According to New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation, packed lunch (which is the normal type of lunch in the U.S.) produces 4-8 ounces (113-227 gr.) of garbage per day and person which amounts to 45-90 pounds (20-40 kg.) of garbage every year (2012). In light of the above, it may seem irrational to defend school lunch. Such a standpoint, nonetheless, seems to ignore the serious consequences that come with its substitute: the lunch box. There are in fact several reasons that make lunch box a bad option. Firstly, because it is a waste of time; time that many busy parents do not have. One can but imagine how much more practical and time-saving it is to have meals provided for the children than to let each parent cook for their own children. Secondly, for many children, the school meal is the only regular meal they get (Let’s Move! 2012). Whether we get upset by this fact, we cannot close our eyes as to its reality – if school did not give them lunch, these children may have to carry on a whole day with no real food at all.
Thirdly, with lunch boxes comes what is commonly known as “lunchbox bullying”. This happens when students bring food from their own culture which is unfamiliar to others. Thus, in a society, still enthralled by fast food, Fufu can never compete with a pizza slice, nor does Indian Lassi stand a chance against Coca Cola. If you get bullied for not bringing the “correct” type of foods, then how will the situation be for those who do not bring any food at all? In a school cafeteria, where all students eat the same food, such judgments are simply not possible. But what about food quality – are we not concerned about children’s health? Of course we are, and efforts are being made; not only to regulate, but to improve the school meals. According to USDA’s regulatory standards schools are “required to meet the applicable recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans […][and] to provide one-third of the Recommended Dietary Allowances of protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron, calcium, and calories”(GAO).
A closer look at the earlier-mentioned study from 2009 lets us understand that even if there is an excess in calories, fat and sodium, schools do meet requirements when it comes to protein and vitamins (Schulte 2011). Consequently, the reason 94 % of the schools failed to meet the USDA regulatory standards, is because of an excess of certain unwanted elements and not a lack of nutrition. This is an important detail since it shows the significance of school lunch even when regulatory standards are not perfectly met. Furthermore, there are school nutrition programs constantly working on improving the nutritional quality of school meals. SNA’s (School Nutrition Association) 2010 Back to School Trends Report reveals how effective these programs are, the study shows that: •95% of schools districts are increasing offerings of whole grain products •90.5% are increasing availability of fresh fruits/vegetables •69% of districts are reducing or eliminating sodium in foods •66% of districts are reducing or limiting added sugar
•51% of districts are increasing vegetarian options.
In addition to this, there are several independent projects trying to improve the school lunch. One such project is the “Farm to School Lunch Program”, whose idea is to connect schools with local farms to provide healthy food while also supporting local farmers. The success of this program can be seen by the fact that it now (Oct 2012) operates in 50 states involving 12429 schools (The National Farm to School Network). Another project, known as “Chefs Move to Schools”, aims at incorporating new techniques and healthy recipes into school meals and teaching children the importance of healthy food (2012). Yet, a third project, Let’s Move!, aims at “Giving parents helpful information and fostering environments that support healthy choices. Providing healthier foods in our schools. Ensuring that every family has access to healthy, affordable food. And, helping kids become more physically active” (2012).
With regards to waste issues, the solution lies not in denying children school lunch, but in finding solutions and alternatives to disposable lunches. And there are: serving food on plates for example. Serving the food, using plates instead of packages, does not only safeguard the environment but could in fact serve as a money-saving strategy. According to wastefreelunches.org, a school would save as much as $246.60 per school year and child using real plates and cutlery as well as cloth napkins (2011). In conclusion, the importance of good nutrition for children’s well-being and ability to learn has been well established, and schools have a unique position to endorse healthy dietary behaviors from an early stage. Impracticality and “lunchbox bullying” makes brown-bagging a bad alternative. With regards to food quality, successful efforts have been and still are being made to improve it. Last but not least, school lunch, for many children, is their only regular meal. Even if with the current excess of unhealthy elements in it, withholding the school lunch from these children would be putting their health at stake and seriously adventuring their learning process.
Chefs Move to Schools 2010 [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Oct 2012] Christensen Jen, CNN 2010 Schools struggle to feed kids healthy food. [online] Available at: http://edition.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/09/29/school.food.investigation/ index.html [Accessed 1 Oct 2012]
GAO, United States General Accounting Office, 2003 School Meal Programs Revenue and Expense Information from Selected States [pdf] Available at: [Accessed 2 Oct 2012]
Let’s Move! Healthy food [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Oct 2012] Let’s Move! Learn the Facts [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Oct 2012] New
York’s Department of Environmental Conservation, Reusable Lunchbox [pdf] Available at: [Accessed 1 Oct 2012]
Schulte Tiffany, 2011 Are School Lunches Really Nutritious? [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Oct 2012] SNA (School Nutrition Association) School Meals Proven a Healthy Choice [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Oct 2012] The National Farm to School Network, 2011, statistics [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Oct 2012] WasteFreeLunches.org, 2011 What is a waste-free lunch program? [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Oct 2012] Whitmore Schanzenbach Diane, 2005, Do School Lunches Contribute to Childhood Obesity? [pdf] University of Chicago Available at: [Accessed 2 Oct 2012]