Every Child Deserves A Hot Lunch

Mamacita says; Don’t anyone dare to tell me that a school’s free lunch isn’t necessary, that it’s a luxury sought after by lazy parents, etc. If you were going to say anything remotely resembling that, zip it, NOW. After watching, year after year, children exiting their buses and running as fast as they could to the cafeteria for free breakfast, most of them without socks and with a coat, if any, that was meant for light spring weather, not bitter winter, I know what my tax dollars were paying for.

I was, and am, proud to think of my tax dollars making it possible for a child to have a stomach full enough that he/she could sit still and pay attention in class. A hungry child has more important things on his/her mind than arithmetic, and a starving child might even faint dead away in the middle of spelling. Many of them hadn’t eaten since their free lunch the day before.

Monday mornings were the worst – the children were often shaky with hunger after two days – more if there was a holiday or vacation – and would often help each other to the cafeteria. This was before the days of teachers sending food home in backpacks to get the child, and more often than not his siblings as well, through the weekend, and these children, your children, my children, everybody’s children, were HUNGRY. That free lunch was, for far too many children, the only actual meal those children got.

I’ve written before about how I always kept bread, peanut butter, and jelly in my classroom on a shelf that could not be seen from the front of the room. Any child who wanted a sandwich was free to come in and make one. Or two. The kids thought they were all dipping into the same jars all year, but I replaced everything each week. Administration told me to stop. I refused.

Before ISTEP, the big Indiana standardized test, the directives were clear: make sure each child has had a good breakfast before taking this test. The free breakfast, while a good thing, was a small cold breakfast, so every morning, I cooked breakfast for my testing group. Again, forbidden. Again, I did it anyway. A child whose stomach is growling continuously isn’t going to be able to give us a viable, valid showing. Then again, that test was so stupid, I had a hard time taking even my own children’s scores seriously. But no child was going to sit in my room with me in charge and write with shaky fingers while his stomach growled loudly enough to be heard in all four corners of the room. Besides, the rulebook SAID.

Whenever I read about school cafeteria menus changing all the time, making ketchup a vegetable, etc, I want to walk into a board meeting and require that each ignorant, overweight, well-fed member subsist on school food for a week. They won’t, of course. They know it’s awful. They dictated that it should be.

Originally, you know, school lunch was a hot, homemade actual meal. It was even called the Hot Lunch Program. I remember the ladies who came early in the morning to prepare everything, all homemade. Little by little, the nutritious and filling hot lunch became cold pizza and guv’ment surplus. In my building, our children were served “:brownies” made from prunes. So my peanut butter, jelly, and bread did a pretty good business. (I also know why our floor had mice.)

Every child deserves a good hot breakfast and a good hot lunch, especially when they’re not getting it at home. Schools don’t want to pay the lunch ladies overtime, so they come in later in the morning to warm up the food, and they don’t want to pay them to stay later and have to clean up the mess a good homecooked meal would make, so the lunch ladies have about a four-hour margin in which they get everything out, warm it up, serve it, and clean up. Ask your child how long lunch “hour” is. We’ve got to get these kids in and out fast so the room can be cleaned before time’s up.

My apologies for the novel; I was reading an article about Republicans wanting to modify the school lunch program, eliminate a lot of children from it, and cut food costs even more. Skimping on children and education is about as low as even rats can go.

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