A few years ago, my district was in danger of losing hundreds of thousands of dollars of government money because the number of our free/reduced lunch students did not match the food being dispensed in the cafeteria. The Principal held emergency meetings with staff to emphasize that huge $$$ were on the line.
“You have to make sure your students get their lunch tickets,” he said. “Then you go down with them and make sure they go through the line.”
“But they don’t want to eat,” a staff member said.
“They just throw the lunches away,” another one said.
“Then they throw the lunches away,” he replied. “We have to fix these numbers.”
Eduhonesty: I understood my Principal’s point perfectly. The numbers of free lunch students had to match the number of lunches dispensed to these students. We could not appear to be neglecting to feed low-income students. The government had given us money to make lunches. The existence of these lunches had to be documented.
Still, teachers were aghast at the wastage. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink, as the old saw goes, and teachers understood that you can follow a student through a lunch line, but you can’t force feed him when he gets to his table.
I particularly enjoyed one new teacher’s attempt at a solution:
“At my last school, we counted lunches by counting milk cartons. Couldn’t we just throw away milk instead?”
Very few students ever eat the apples in my school’s lunch line. On some days, garbage cans in the lunchroom are overflowing. While we are considering the wacky milk idea, maybe I will add one wacky idea of my own: Why don’t we sell school lunch garbage to pig farmers to get extra income to fund after school programs? If that doesn’t work, I’m sure we could convince farmers to take our trashed food and pay transportation costs. Wastage would go down and, with luck, the price of pork would go down too.