FRAC Statement: Cheese Sandwiches Not the Solution to Balancing Schools’ Budget

Taking a hot meal away from a child is not the answer to balancing a school district’s budget. In an attempt to address unpaid lunch fees, some school districts are adopting a “cheese sandwich” policy which dictates that school food service personnel take away a child’s regular school lunch and replace it with a cheese sandwich when that child’s family owes money to the school nutrition program.

This is wrong for several reasons.

  • It points a spotlight on children whose parents are behind on payments. Under federal law, schools cannot identify children who receive free and reduced-price meals. This policy violates the spirit, if not the letter of the law. The goal should be promoting participation in the school meals programs, not creating an environment that stigmatizes children. Much has been done over the past several years to ensure that children have access to healthy food at school. To take a lunch away from a child erases much of that progress.
  • It falls under the guise of using food as punishment. Children, especially very young children, will feel that they are being punished when their school meal is taken away from them. Health and nutrition professionals agree that using food as a reward or punishment does not promote healthy eating habits in childhood. Such practices can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food later in life and contribute to eating disorders, including overeating and obesity. In fact, one specific recommendation in the Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity in Children and Adolescents is to “avoid withholding food as punishment.”
  • It ignores the impact the recession is having on vulnerable families. Parents may have recently lost jobs or have had a cutback in hours. They may not realize their child could be eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Instead of cheese sandwiches, schools should engage in better outreach to make sure that parents are aware of these programs.

“It’s quite simple. The solution to any challenge should never be taking food away from a child,” said Jim Weill, President of the Food Research and Action Center. “It creates a hostile environment in the cafeteria for children and ignores the challenges facing struggling families. Schools should engage in better outreach to make sure families newly eligible for free and reduced-price meals are getting them. Children should not feel as though they are being punished for their parents’ financial difficulties.”

For more information, contact: Jennifer Adach, 202.986.2200 x3018.

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The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) is the leading national nonprofit organization working to improve public policies and public-private partnerships to eradicate hunger and undernutrition in the United States.