Healthy-school-lunch reformers were pleased last year to see the passage of federal legislation mandating changes in what school cafeterias can serve. But according to The New York Times, these reforms may actually be driving parents to give their kids bagged lunches:
Under a little-noticed provision of the child nutrition bill signed by President Obama in December, which brought more fresh produce and less whole milk to cafeterias nationwide, school districts are required to start bringing their prices in line with what it costs to prepare the meals…
Price increases threaten to upend the delicate balance of school food operations, [New York City School’s Eric] Goldstein said, as they might compel more parents to pack their children’s lunches or to skip on paying cafeteria lunch fees altogether — already a huge problem, with the city absorbing $42 million in unpaid fees since 2004.
Certainly, it doesn’t matter how healthy the school lunches are if parents stop giving their kids money to buy them. The trick with any school-lunch reform is that it has to fit three criteria: Be healthy (to satisfy schools and parents), be cheap (to satisfy schools and parents), and be tasty (to satisfy kids).
As Jamie Oliver found out with the last point, pushing healthy but tasteless lunches on unreceptive kids resulted in a good bit of food wasted, followed by kids bringing in bagged lunches, which didn’t have to pass his healthiness test. As advocates look for ways to change cafeterias, they should keep in mind the unintended consequences, and the bottom lines for the various stakeholders.