School Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Now Dinner Too?


Free and reduced price lunch has long been part of federal and some state school meal programs, and breakfasts and weekend supplements are increasingly common. Now Washington DC is expanding a pilot dinnertime meal program at its schools, according to this Washington Post article (D.C. schools dinner program aims to fight childhood hunger).  "The District
is going a step further in 99 of its 123 schools and reaching nearly a
quarter of its total enrollment."  Some readers have complained about the morning meal program, which is often conducted in the classroom.  What do you think about the need for such a program and the logistics and capacity to pull it off?  How would you weigh the needs of parents and children against the needs of teachers and schools?  Have any schools or areas tried this on their own?

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  • It's not uncommon for schools that have after school programs to use a "third meal option." Federal funding already exists for this option. If we are going to keep students for two or more additional hours, we need to feed them. This will create no additional burden on school staff (it actually gives everyone a break from instruction) that the after school program doesn't already cause. There is a growing problem with child hunger in this country and programs of this kind can help to reduce it. Furthermore, children who are well fed are likely to increase their academic achievement. Unfortunately, this says nothing about the quality of the food served, which, in Chicago, is often fairly poor.

  • I think it comes down to a calculation of costs. Is it cheaper and less harmful to the student to have the student fed at school or is it cheaper and better fdor the student to take him out of his home and put him in foster care? In most cases, foster care can be worse than a disfunctional family. Plus most states don't have enough of a foster family system to deal with the influx.

    Let's face it a family that can't bother to feed its children is not a healthy family. When speaking of all 3 meals, I don't think poverty explains it. After all, SNAP exists just for this purpose. And, because of the use of the card instead of coupons, it's much harder to sell one's food stamps than it used to be. It's true, SNAP does not provide a lot of money, but if one knows how to cook, it can be enough. Especially if the children are getting some of their meals at school.

    But there is a reality to face and that's that many students have bad family environments. Keeping them in school for longer, where they can be exposed to enrichment or athletic or remedial activities (and I would argue a need for all 3) in addition to an additional meal, is probably going to be better for these students than sending them back to their unstable homes. As long as it's voluntary, I don't see a problem here. It may make life a little harder for the teachers, but given the love they tend to have for their students I doubt there will be a massive amount of complaining.

  • If CPS offers dinner to the families, this might get parents to come to the school. Obviously report card pick up night is a flop. It is tough to eat paper.

  • Here's a thought: parents feed the kids and teachers teach the kids. And if the parents can't afford to feed the kids, maybe they shouldn't be having kids. And maybe Uncle Sam shouldn't be offering cash incentives to facilitate single-parent children out of wedlock.

    Maybe schools should focus on education and not continue to serve as society's safety net. Let other social services entities fill that void.

  • In reply to mrobertson718:

    Great but telling a parent she should not have had her child is not doing anything to help the student or the family or society or any danged thing else. People come as are, and the school has to deal with it.

    Everything is better in fantasy land but that's not the way things work.

  • In reply to cermakRd:

    You missed my point. When society creates a safety-net relieving parents of their responsibilities, they frequently behave irresponsibly. Parents, not taxpayers, should be feeding the children they produce, or they should exercise restraint (birth control) and not have so many children.

  • In reply to mrobertson718:

    And you missed mine that families don't behave irresponsibly because society provides a safety net for the children, society provides a safety net for the children because the family has behaved irresponsibly.

    Taking away her childrens' free meals is not going to magically cure a mother's mental illness or substance abuse or domestic violence or whatever else is going on in her life. Nor is it going to cause less children to be born to parents who are completely unprepared for them.

  • In reply to cermakRd:

    Mayfair Dad--there's no point trying to reason with these godless liberals. Their "minds" are just wired different, I guess.

  • In reply to Danaidh:

    Nice ad hominem.

    Seriously, I'm just arguing from a position of reality. People don't change. Families who don't or can't care for their children now won't care once you remove the free meals. It isn't the meals that cause the problem, it's the people and I don't think you can change the people through any social policy. They are the way they are.

    So, is it cheaper to provide meals at school than it is to put the students in foster homes? It is far cheaper to provide the meals. IL also does not have an extensive or well funded foster care program. I think the biggest bang for the buck is in providing services through schools.

  • In reply to cermakRd:

    From a practical point of view, you are correct. A public school system already exists - why noy use this infrastructure to deliver social services to at-risk children. Fair enough. But has the pendulum swung too far in this direction? Have we burdened an already floundering school system with non-educational responsibilities they are simply not equipped to deliver, and does the focus on educational excellence suffer as a consequence? Nobody wants hungry kids, but I was a bit astonished when I read how much CPS spends on food service in a year.

  • In reply to cermakRd:

    My granddaughter comes home from school starved on many days because she says the lunch is so bad. Many children are getting sick right after lunch. There has been a major change for the worse since last school year. Parents at another school in the neighborhood are saying their children are coming home and complaining too!!!! Lunches that the kids won't eat aren't going to help improving their learning and if this is true for dinner too. I think it is a good idea especially in neighborhoods where many people are at or below the poverty level but the food should be prepared well and healthy. Yes, kids will eat almost anything when they are hungry but if it is over spiced or otherwise hard to swallow then it defeats the purpose. People are making good money to feed our kids and the food should be prepared the way they would want their families to be fed.

  • In reply to mrobertson718:


    I think both of you are missing the point: The kids didn

  • In reply to rbusch:

    That's true too. I would imagine if children had a say in the matter, they would all be born to mentally stable, middle class families.

  • Great idea.How about the champagne and lobster for students and tuna sandwich for teachers?

  • I don't think testing is the cause of the lack of ability to participate in an intelligent conversation. Many of my peers were also unable to do so and that was before the emphasis on testing.

    I believe students need to be assessed. And I don't believe students can move on without meeting a benchmark. Before one can appreciate enrichment activities, it is helpful to have the basics. Before the student can participate meaningfully in drama, the student should be able to read. Before a student can participate meaningfully in physics, a student should be able to understand algebra.

    The biggest failing I see is that the whole educational institution seems to focus more on test prep than on education. Why not just teach meaningful lessons and not do test prep and then see what the assessments say? If they show that the students are pretty good on topic x but missed topic y entirely, then try next time, to weave in some of topic y? Instead of having the students read a passage for 10 minutes have them read a short story (O. Henry wrote lots of them) and then discuss the story in class? This is how it was done when I was young (of course back then the Iowas were largely considered a vacation from school as no one took them seriously).

  • Pap smear of the brain

    One of the biggest problems with this current test craze is the total lack of cures.
    When someone has a test like a pap smear it is a diagnostic tool. The results are known and
    a course of action is then determined, hopefully none is needed. Kids are being tested to death
    and no course of action is forthcoming except to try and blame the teacher.
    In the last couple of years everyone who knows how to program has some kind of
    video, or internet product on the market. It seems like nobody has a cure, just something for sale.

  • While feeding kids is a great idea, it is a very flawed program. The paperwork to apply for free meals is easy to falsify. Parents write what they want and are not required to provide documentation.
    At my school (and I am sure many others), most of the kids qualify for the program based on made up num ers. These kids have expensive phones,shoes and so on. They get dropped off in cars nice cars and clearly do not live at or near the poverty level. This is a very costly and much abused program. Many of the families taking advantage can offord to pay for could send food from home. I know there are kids who need the meails but many do not. It is a program that needs revamping and accountability.

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