From a rather defeated SustainaMom...
“Hi, I’m calling to ask about touring your school and the registration process for next year’s pre-K program,” I say into the phone.
After I jot down notes about tour dates and deadlines, I ask my real question: “And what about lunches? Can I send a lunch?”
Invariably, the answer is, “No, we don’t allow that.”
“With a doctor’s note?” I ask.
“We don’t allow lunches from home, but we can accommodate dietary restrictions like allergies,” I hear.
Seriously, I can’t feed my own child?
I have found one preschool that will let me send a lunch from home. “You have to send a fruit, a vegetable, a protein, a grain and a dairy — every day,” I was told. “If you can’t do that, you’ll have to come down here to feed your son every day.”
The director of that school explained that the state is very strict about the lunches.
But the FAQ section about Georgia’s pre-K program says that individual preschools set their own policies regarding lunches from home.
So I have to wonder if the schools just want the lunch money?
To be honest, the money isn’t even my biggest concern (and I do not say that lightly). Aside from the fact that my son is an extremely picky eater who would starve if faced with a school lunch and, as a result, misbehave, I object to someone else planning his meals with no input from me.
Will they buy organic milk? If they offer chocolate milk, will it have red food dye in it? What about the waste from all those individual milk cartons? Will the apples be organic? Did that cow eat grass or grain before it was turned into beef? Who is checking the bread label for HFCS? Were those beans packaged and shipped in a BPA-coated can?
Let’s not even delve into the fact that the USDA just last month admitted that its own standards for school lunches are substandard.
Seriously, the only legitimate reason I can fathom for this lunch box restriction is food allergies. I joined a listserv about food allergies a couple of years ago, and I cried at some of the things those moms went through with their children, so I absolutely do see the need to protect those children.
However, I am really struggling with the thought that my child who has a diagnosed sensory-based feeding issue is being discriminated against. And I’m writing about this here because I am so frustrated with the idea that any parent would have to give up some oversight to their child’s diet in order to take advantage of the state-/lottery-funded pre-K program.
And that brings me to the other side of the dilemma. This program is primarily lottery-funded, not tax-funded. And the Pre-K classes are held at preschools not elementary schools. As a side note, some of these preschools receive tax subsidies — and they will not let younger kids bring lunches either as providing those balanced lunches is mandated for those subsidies. We’ve been down this road before.
Back to my point, preschool isn’t a right like public kindergarten is. If lunch money is a concern for the schools, do these non-public (though possibly subsidized) preschools have a right to enforce rules that make the program infeasible for my child? Again, the pre-K education is paid for through the state lottery, and the lunches are paid for by the parents.
I also want to say that I know those school lunches are a tremendous blessing for some families. I don’t want to do away with the programs, though I am glad to see that the USDA is moving for improvement. But I do think it is crazy to mandate something less than I want to provide — especially when all but the bread and milk would be thrown away every single day in our case.
What do you guys think — about school lunches in general or about parents being told they can’t send a lunch for their children? Also, what school lunch issues do you run into in other states/other grade levels?
As for us, we’re on the waiting list at the one pre-K that will allow lunches from home, and we’re registering at the same half-day church program where we’ve been packing our own lunches for two years. In my dream world, I wouldn’t even have to make this decision as I would be homeschooling, but a girl has to help pay the mortgage....