Banning Brown Bagging: Chicago School Cracks Down on Homemade Lunches

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The days of brown bagging it are over for students in a Chicago school. In an effort to encourage healthy eating, their principal banned lunches brought from home.

Elsa Carmona, principal of Little Village Academy on Chicago’s West Side, forbade students from bringing food from home (except those students with a medical excuse) after she noticed kids eating “flaming hot” chips and drinking soda at lunchtime. “It’s milk versus Coke,” she said.

While Carmona’s policy has been in place for six years, it made headlines this week when the Chicago Tribune wrote about the controversy surrounding the plan as part of its ongoing coverage of the changing school lunch. As part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign, school lunches everywhere will soon undergo a dramatic makeover thanks to Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, signed by President Obama last December. The act allows the government more power to decide what foods can be offered in school lunches, school vending machines and at fundraisers during school hours.

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While the goal of healthy eating is a positive one, parents are understandably upset about the Carmona dictating what their kids can and cannot eat for lunch. Not to mention the fact that some parents may be able to send their kids to lunch with a meal that costs less (and one that could be even healthier) than the school’s offerings.

The kids are upset, too. When the Tribune reporter visited the school, one seventh grader led students in a chant of “We should bring our own lunch! We should bring our own lunch!” Students say the school’s food tastes bad. Bad-tasting food, parents say, often means that kids throw away the school lunch and go hungry.

It’s also worth noting, as reported by the Tribune, that the school district receives money from the federal government for each free or reduced-price lunch it serves, meaning that in banning homemade lunches could potentially put more money in the pockets of both the district and the school district’s food provider.

But Carmona maintains her school’s policy is simply about helping students make healthy choices. “Nutrition-wise,” she told the Tribune, “it’s better for the children to eat at the school. It’s about nutrition and the excellent quality food that they are able to serve (in the lunchroom).”

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