School Lunch Wars


I am packing a lot of school lunches this year.

My daughter is in preschool, where the children have to bring a packed lunch and my son is in kindergarten. Theoretically, he could buy a lunch, but he is picky enough that he prefers to bring a packed lunch every single day. Packing lunches is a chore that I certainly don’t enjoy, but my job is made even more difficult by the school nutrition policies. Before I get started, I just want to say that I think it’s wonderful that the schools are trying to help us raise healthy children. However, I really don’t appreciate that they have become so zealous in their nutrition policies that common sense has flown out the  window.

Also, I believe that as a parent, I should have the right to determine what I feed my own children.

sandwich, apple. orange, string cheese

The first thing that shocked me about the school nutrition policy this year was the need to pack a snack for my kindergartner every day. Apparently the children of today are incapable of going without food for more than an hour, unlike my generation of snackless schoolchildren. I rarely serve my children snacks at home because they are not good for dental health and I believe that they promote unhealthy eating habits, such as eating out of boredom or routine instead of in response to actual hunger. However, I don’t want to rock the boat right at the beginning of my son’s school experience, so I comply and send in a snack for my son every day.

However, it’s not that simple. I received a letter before the school year started saying that one of my son’s classmates is allergic to peanuts, cashews, and pistachio nuts. Obviously, I can’t send in anything with those nuts for a snack. I’m not some evil witch who wants some poor child to go into anaphylactic shock, so I’m completely on board with this. I’m just really unhappy about the fact that everything I send in must be individually labeled. I usually buy big containers of snacks, which are friendlier both to my wallet and the environment. I asked at the school office if I could send in a bag of the snacks along with the nutrition label cut off the big box. No, I cannot. Apparently the school thinks that I am some evil villain who is going to purposely send in nut products while cutting the label off some safe food just to fool everyone.

Parents are also not allowed to bring in items they bake at home. Either we are all so stupid that we don’t know how to exclude nut products or we are all so malicious that we want to cause an allergic reaction in some unsuspecting child.

lunch boxes

After researching some different snacks, I finally found some fruit snacks that were individually labeled. They got sent home uneaten because they contain coconut oil. I was so frustrated. First of all, the form that got sent home said that the child was allergic to peanuts, cashews, and pistachio nuts. The last time I checked, coconut oil was made from coconuts, not peanuts, cashews, or pistachio nuts. Furthermore, despite its name, coconut is not actually a nut. It’s a stone fruit, or drupe if you want to get technical. You can read more on Wikipedia if you are interested. Apparently the schools are so paranoid that facts and science are to be ignored and coconuts are now magically harmful simply because they contain the word “nut” in their name. SMH.

Luckily, lunch for my kindergartner is not quite so strict because there is a separate nut-free table in the school lunch cafeteria.

I am so glad that I can send in Nutella sandwiches because my son is so picky that he won’t eat any other type of sandwich. Believe me, I have tried. I also try to send in plenty of healthy choices in his lunch, such as strawberries, applesauce, popcorn, and cheese. However, one day I had the audacity to send in one single Hershey’s Kiss for a treat and that got sent home because the children can’t have candy. I haven’t been able to find anything in the school’s nutrition policy that forbids sending candy in a packed lunch, but apparently that doesn’t really matter. I will just save the treats to eat at home instead. I believe that completely withholding small treats would make my children covet them even more and lead them to gorge on them as soon as they are old enough to be out from under my supervision.

I would rather teach my children about eating a healthy diet and adding in some treats in moderation. I just can’t do that at school.

lunch box, food

My daughter goes to a different school, so I have to keep track of an entirely separate nutrition policy. She goes to a small preschool where they eat lunch in the classroom, so there is a nut-free policy. Again, I think this is completely reasonable. Then comes all the other stuff. For starters, there is a list of forbidden foods, such as squeezable yogurt, which is “too messy.” I also can’t send in some of my daughter’s favorite foods, such as mini pretzels or carrot sticks because they are a choking hazard. I find this rather ironic, since she has been eating these foods without problems since she was two years old, but I am actually allowed to send in the one food that her brother has choked on as a toddler, which is string cheese. Go figure. At this school, parents are allowed to bring in home-baked goods, because preschool parents must be more trustworthy than grade school parents. However, I was irate when my homemade beet muffin was sent home uneaten because it “smelled like chocolate.” Yes indeed, I used a couple tablespoons of cocoa powder in an effort to make beets palatable to my children. It seems that the preschool believes that chocolate in all its forms is so unhealthy that our children shouldn’t eat it. Instead, my child gets served all kinds of crackers that have been processed half to death and my homemade nutritious beet muffin is rejected because of a little cocoa powder. I fail to see how this makes any sense at all.

cookies, prohibited sign

Then there are the birthdays celebrations. The days of my childhood, when parents would bring in cupcakes, are long gone. I don’t have to worry about the nutrition policy for birthday treats at my son’s school because they aren’t allowed to bring in edible treats. Instead, the kids come home with goody bags full of little annoying trinkets that they don’t need every time someone has a birthday. I won’t even get started on that. At my daughter’s school, the children are allowed to bring in ice pops to share with their friends. They must be 100% juice ice pops, though. This weekend, I ended up going to five different grocery stores before I finally found the darn things. (FYI, try the Price Chopper on Shelburne Road in South Burlington if you need to find some.) I was quite annoyed at that point. To add icing to the cake (figuratively, of course), the ice pops came in boxes of 12 and there are 25 kids at the preschool. My children will be quite happy to realize that they have 11 extra ice pops in the freezer at home to eat.

These are my experiences with different school nutrition policies.

Do you think that schools are going overboard in trying to get children to eat healthy or do you think that the policies are exactly what today’s children need?


  1. I’ve been saying this for the last 5+ years! You are totally correct and it annoys me to no end that we are all so stupid in the eyes of the school systems of Vermont that we can’t feed our children properly. There are MANY obese children at my kids school, my kids barely hit the 50th percentile each year. I completely agree that no letting them have treats just makes them more prone to over indulging. Also, I’d rather my hyper kids had a treat at lunch than after dinner when they’re going to bed soon! I feel your pain, we’re in the Hartford School District.


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