Issue: Lunch shaming

student food tray

Stories of students who can’t pay for lunch being given a subpar meal or shamed for their debt have proliferated in recent years, and it’s not an uncommon problem. The SNA’s 2016 School Nutrition Operations Report found that about three-quarters of school districts had an unpaid student meal debt at the end of last school year, an increase from 71% of districts reporting debt in 2014.

Government has begun to take action. In April, the USDA issued new regulations mandating that schools implement unpaid meal policies by the start of the 2017-18 school year and clarifying that schools must make efforts to collect debt incurred from unpaid meals.

Some legislatures are going a step further. With the signing of the Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights Act in April, New Mexico became the first state to require schools provide students a nutritious lunch without singling them out, regardless if they’re behind on lunch payments. A similar bill was introduced in the California Senate last month.

“Healthy school meals are just as important to academic achievement as the textbooks that students receive. We all need to work together to ensure every student has access to the nutrition they need to succeed," SNA President Becky Domokos-Bays said in a news release.

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
vote buttons pins

On every other Thursday of our four-week cycle menu, we allow K-8 students to pick the entree choices. The media center specialist for each of the participating schools sets up the list of entree items on a computer for voting, and the winning entrees are given to cafeteria managers two weeks before the upcoming month to put into production. Students really like this, as it promotes ownership of the menu.

Ideas and Innovation
chalkboard

We highlight our North Carolina products on a large chalkboard in our dining halls, and also list any produce we bring in from our own agroecology farm. It helps tell our story—positive and local.

Ideas and Innovation
raised garden beds

We have raised garden beds that residents can reserve and use to grow their own plants. Whenever a resident brings me fresh produce from their own garden, I try and incorporate it into a dish. If I do end up using it, I will display the resident’s name and what the produce was next to the dish on the menu.

Ideas and Innovation
chartwells teaching kids

Curriculum for the mobile teaching kitchen centers around a single kid-friendly recipe, using ingredients that can provide talking points for nutrition, sustainability and food origins. “The recipe is the lesson,” Saidel says. “Every ingredient is an opportunity to talk.”

Earlier this year, Saidel, Perkins and Harvey did a student demo featuring roasted chicken and white bean tacos with greens and citrus salsa. “We can say, ‘Why are we using chicken instead of beef? Why are there some beans in here?’ You can talk about plant proteins and the sustainability and health message around...

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