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US Schools Rethink Meal-Debt Policies That Humiliate Kids

Across the country schools are punishing children whose parents fail to give them lunch money, often embarrassing even the youngest by turning them away from the lunch line. As reported by ABC News, one school took a 4-year-old’s milk away and dumped her lunch in the trash when cafeteria workers discovered she had no lunch money. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) this year is requiring schools to adopt better policies for addressing meal debts.

Aside from the financial and environmental waste of dumping a perfectly good lunch in the trash, schools obviously should not be shaming children for what their parents fail to do. It’s not that school lunches as a whole have that great of a reputation, as they consist of mostly processed foods with fruits and vegetables noticeably absent.

I only wish that while the USDA is directing schools not to hold kids responsible for their parents’ debts, that the agency also would take a good hard look at what processed foods are doing to our children. The federal lunch program as a whole is in dire need of an overhaul, and the problem originates with USDA guidelines, which allow such things as french fries and pizza sauce to qualify as vegetables.

Overall, school lunches are the epitome of processed factory food, laden with sugar and synthetic ingredients, and studies show that kids who eat school lunches have a 29 percent higher risk of obesity than those brown bagging it. Even the USDA’s “Smart Snacks in School” program consists of choices that are actually processed foods, including junk foods like tortilla chips and artificially flavored water.

The good news is some schools on their own are trying to make positive changes, such as transitioning over to antibiotic-free chicken, and/or serving fresh produce from local farms as part of the National Farm to School Network. If you’re interested in this program, I encourage you to contact your local schools and see if they will work with you to get it.
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