Brown-Bag Contraband

It wasn’t so long ago that teachers and principals were most concerned about kids bringing drugs and weapons to school. Now we’re learning that brown-bag lunches packed with love at home are apparently a grave threat to kids’ health and well-being.

Little Village Academy on Chicago's West Side has implemented a strict ban on all outside food brought to school. Unless children have a medical excuse, the Chicago Tribune notes, they are required to eat (or at least try to stomach) cafeteria food.

Principal Elsa Carmona is convinced that her school’s lunches are superior in nutrition and quality to those prepared by moms and dads. And this is not an isolated incident of nanny state bureaucracy gone wild, the Tribune reports. While other Chicago public schools do not impose outright bans on home-packed lunches, some routinely “confiscate any snacks loaded with sugar or salt.” (Those contraband goodies are often returned to kids after school.)

The Tribune asked for our thoughts about how these controversial school lunch restrictions interfere with parents’ ability to choose what their children eat. We gladly responded:

This is such a fundamental infringement on parental responsibility. Would the school balk if the parent wanted to prepare a healthier meal? This is the perfect illustration of how the government's one-size-fits-all mandate on nutrition fails time and time again. Some parents may want to pack a gluten-free meal for a child, and others may have no problem with a child enjoying soda.

Schools have an obligation to provide opportunities for learning and exercising; but food choices should be strictly up to parents. Teaching kids about health and nutrition is important, of course, but schools should complement those lessons with equally valuable ones about common sense, moderation, and actually enjoying food. Bullying kids away from targeted foods and beverages ultimately serves no one, and heavy-handed attempts to reform school foods are doomed to failure.

Just ask celebrity chef-turned-public school cafeteria pest Jamie Oliver.

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