Is It Wrong To Use Free School Lunches?
Melinda writes: How do you feel about free school lunches? I ask this because with our low income we qualify for free lunches and breakfasts at my kids’ school. However, because I run a tight ship and try to be a good steward with the resources the Lord gives us, we actually can pay for our three children to eat the lunch that the school provides. I’m very torn on this issue. I almost feel like my kids eating the free school lunch would be like receiving welfare. On the other hand, free lunches would sure free some extra money that could be used in other areas of our budget. What do you suggest?
Tawra: The issue of free school lunches is one of those gray area questions that we’ve never quite been able to resolve.
We were in a similar situation last year where we qualified for reduced rate lunches. We took the reduced rate lunches. We did it because we knew my husband’s job was coming to an end soon and we weren’t sure if it was going to be sooner or later. :-) I went ahead and did it and it’s funny because we ended up not using the reduced rate lunches very often. My kids prefer bringing their lunch instead so they saw school lunches as the less desirable alternative. (The school didn’t care if they didn’t like institutional canned spinach ;-)
I think whether or not to use the school lunch program is something you are going to need to consider for your own situation. I would say pray about it and if you think God doesn’t want you to do it then don’t. There is nothing wrong with accepting free school lunches if you need them, particularly if you see it as a temporary thing. That’s why they offer that program. Even though you can pay for lunches, you still may have a reasonable need. If they spend their money wisely, most people who use the free lunch program “can” afford it. They just don’t. If you accept the free or reduced lunches so you can free space in the budget for unnecessary luxury items, that is probably not reasonable. If you are considering accepting it so that it’s a little easier to find the money in your budget to fix your car when it breaks down, that is probably reasonable. There is no reason to punish yourself for being smart about how you spend your money.
At our school, we could have made 50% more money and still qualified for the reduced lunches, so we didn’t feel like we were somehow taking advantage of the program.
We have qualified for WIC and programs like that for a long time, but we don’t feel good about taking it at this point in our lives. That’s just for us. It’s not right or wrong but that’s just how we handle it with our situation. I’m sorry I couldn’t give you a black and white answer! :-)
Read Answers About Free School Lunches From Some Of Our Readers Here.
Tawra and Jill,
Our Walgreens is having a “Back to School” Day on Aug. 14th from 12:00 – 3:00 p.m.. They are giving away free backpacks and school supplies. I don’t know if this is going on at all the Walgreens but it might be worth checking out. I also look out for the weekly sales this month at Staples, Office Depot & Office Max; especially the $.01, $.05 & $.25 items. As a teacher I often need to give my students pencils, erasers, crayons, etc. because their parents can’t afford them. It helps to buy them at low prices. Thanks for all your great advice and ideas. You are truly an inspiration. Good luck selling your house.
We are a homeschool family so lunches are never free here, but my older two were in public school for a time so they did get school lunches and we did qualify for reduced and/or free lunches from time to time. There is nothing wrong with taking help that is offered. I must admit though school lunches are just one more reason we teach our children at home. After watching Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, you can still catch it online at hulu.com, and seeing just what the USDA considers food, if teaching my children at home were not an option, we would be bagging it for lunch. I have a grandson now who is in public school and was trying to explain that chocolate milk has as much sugar as soda, but he is 4 and in Pre-K so he was pretty adamant about not giving up his chocolate milk. I say take the help, but keep a watchful eye on the menu, and educate your children on healthy choices, those who have the opportunity to do so sure aren’t.
Our daughter’s school prints out a monthly calander that shows what breakfast and lunch are going to be served on what day and sends it home on the last of the previous month (October’s monthly menus will be sent home at the end of September and so on). I have her circle what days she would like to eat lunch at school and I pack her lunch the other days. Surprisingly enough she would rather me pack her lunch most days. I didn’t let her eat at school for 2 years because at the end of one school year she said that someone got moldy bologna!! The following year she told me that the milk refrigerator went out 3 times. I have worked in the commercial food industry for 17 years and I just didn’t feel safe letting her eat at school (shame what the world is coming to!) She never eats breakfast at school – I don’t feel they are healthy enough. I could go on and on but I won’t! Bottom line: meet in the middle and do both!!
I have never lived in an area where lunches were offered at school. Well the high school here for a few years had Robins Donuts cater the lunch crowd and they could buy soup chili and small subs. They stopped that when parents complained it was unhealthy. Can’t figure out why soup and chili and subs were unhealthy but the students started crossing the parking lot for the A&W for pop and fries and burgers. The school put in vending machines.
Call me dumb but chili soup or mushy sandwiches chips and pop from the vending machine. But the parents were happy.
I could never have my boys eat at school meals. They have an allergy that is in most foods so it was come home or brown bag it and cook from scratch.
One program I heard about was a breakfast program. You didn’t have to sign up your children. If they got to school and were hungry they went into the home ec class and could have a muffin or bagel and a container of milk and a piece of fruit.
When they checked who was using it they found that a lot of the students were from families that made in the 90-100 thousand dollar range. Reason being the parents had learned to start the morning with coffee they grabbed on the way to work. They didn’t take into consideration that young people need to eat a meal to keep their growing minds and bodies fed and happy. The kids would take the free breakfast.
I think parents should have to take a course on cooking or organizing proper eating habits. I know so many young parents who actually do not even know what is healthy and what is not when it comes to buying groceries.
I am just glad my sons learned to cook and shop because they both married girls who did not have a clue.
I work in am elementary school where free/reduced lunches are offered. I say take the lunches! That program adds money to the school budget for things like Title 1 reading and math programs and a slew of other benefits. It is good for your school and good for your family. You can give more to your family by taking advantage of the program and it just might make things a little easier.
Yes, this is a touchy subject, especially for Christians who do not believe in any government assistance. There was a time when our daughter qualified for free lunch. My husband became seriously ill and was out of work for a year or so. I searched for, and found a job but it didn’t come close to replacing his income. There were many years where we paid generously into the welfare system. I didn’t feel guilty about her having free meals at school. If you are truly in need (as we were) then I say go for it.
My daughter qualifies for free lunches at school and we were encouraged to sign up for them by the principal since, as Kristine mentioned, it helps the school get Title I funding which I believe is based on the number of low income families in the school. I still send lunch from home most of the time, but there are a couple of items that my daughter really likes at school, so she buys lunch on those days. She also eats breakfast at school some days when it’s been a particularly rushed morning and she hasn’t had time to eat the “perfect” (in her mind!) breakfast at home. On the plus side, she will eat yogurt at school but I can’t get her to eat it at home, so it works out well!
As a high school teacher, I agree that schools benefit financially for getting a high percentage of free or reduced cost lunches. If you feel concerned about taking something for nothing, take the reduced cost plan.
I must say, it does bother me as a teacher to see students wasting food to have them tell me “So what? I’m not paying for it!” The same students have nails done, hair weaves, cell phones and clothes I could never afford on a teacher’s pay. Teachers pay full price for lunches.
I do praise the schools that offer free breakfast as many kids do not have the opportunity or means to eat before school. Data tells us that students that have a protein rich breakfast do far better in school than those that don’t. Sleep and food are the most important things parents can provide to their students- so wake up Mom and Dad- little Suzy and Johnny are staying up “texting” until 2am on school nights and sleep in class the next day. Check on your kids and take the phones& video games away at night.
You hit it right on Tina. What makes me sad to see too is we can’t figure why our kids aren’t more responsible and want to get a free ride and wonder where they are learning this from but here are parents not making sure their kids are getting a good nights rest or being responsible enough themselves to make sure their kids get up in time and have a good breakfast. We sometimes work 2 jobs to make sure our kids will have a good education or those cool shoes but don’t bother to take care of their ordinary every day needs like eating breakfast or their daily meals. Too strange to me.
Before you holler some of you saying I don’t understand or are judging, I know their are exceptions to every rule so if this doesn’t apply to you then don’t worry about it.
I had lost my job and found a part-time job but had no health insurance benefits. I then found out I was pregnant with our third child and applied for state health insurance. Even with hubby’s income, we still qualified. We also qualified for WIC and at the time I said, oh I’d feel guilty. The lady said to me, “You’ve been working for 20 years paying into the system, you need it, you qualify, take it. If anything, stockpile the food for when you’re on maternity leave and not getting an income.” So we did. And after the baby was born, I lost my part-time job and then we really needed it and it’s a good thing because if I had applied for it now, we wouldn’t qualify because I’m no longer pregnant.
It has been a blessing and I no longer feel guilty because we’re not abusing the system.
So I feel if you qualify and taking it would make room for other necessities in your budget, take it.
Lisa I am glad you posted this. We do talk so much about abusing the system because so many people are but the system was put in place for a reason and to help those who really need it. My grand mother in law once was telling me to get help at one time and she said our whole family and extended family had paid for decades into the system and no one had ever used it. And again you are right. You used it when you needed it then moved on.
It is sad that so many have been abusing the system for literally generations which then makes for those who really need it.
I think that, as a Christian, prayer is the first and most important step. We are a family of 8 on one income and we have qualified off and on over the years for many different programs. I am thankful that the programs are in place for people for times of need. We have used the reduced breakfast/lunch option, as well as our church’s food pantry, during a time when my husband’s hours were cut back severely and we could barely pay our mortgage. As soon as his hours were back up we stopped using the food pantry, and I used the money we saved on school breakfasts and lunches to stockpile groceries, which was a good thing because his hours were not reliable again not long after. It’s a touchy economy and I think as long as you are not abusing the system it’s put in place for rough times…Not to be a perpetual thing through generations or anything like that, but to help families in crisis to get by until they have the means to stand back on their own. Thanks for posting!
I am an RN now, I taught high school for 10 years though – and there were times that my family also qualified for help, especially while I was in school. I say if you qualify and it helps you build a contingency fund, a savings account, or meet your kids needs (even sometimes a basic want), you should use it.
Tina, I have to comment on the texting till 2 a.m. – most phone plans now have a parental plan that lets you effectively turn off certain features at any given time. My kids carry phones for several reasons 1. they earn them. 2. we have no home phone. 3. between athletics, tutoring, and part time jobs, they sometimes need to be able to call me. For my kids, in the summer (and non school nights), their phones stop making calls to anyone but me and my husband (or 911) at midnight. In the school year, it’s 9 p.m. They routinely complain that their friends have no such restrictions. My kids are A B students; I work hard to help them stay that way. I find most parents don’t know about the plans that let them limit their kids.
I think that you should take the breakfast and lunch. It is there for a reason. The program is in place for people to use. Your tax dollars have paid into the program just as much as everyone else has.
Your prayers are the right idea. Always ask the Lord for His help in these matters.
My Doctor (several years ago) told me to get immunizations at the County Health office for my oldest child. I didn’t want to take a hand out either – but as he said – that’s what my taxes go for. I’ve used the County Health office for immunizations for all three kids and when we qualified for reduced lunches at school – I did those too. Nice to know where some of my tax money went.
We qualify for free breakfast and lunch and we believe it is one of the many ways God provides
so we use them
The schools get credits for free lunches. If you fall into the incomes to recieve free lunch use them. I have worked in the system and my kids recieve free lunches.
We homeschool, so no school lunches… But when my husband lost his job a year ago, we applied for Food Stamps. It sure has helped! His income from the jobs he has had since have not come close to what he had before getting laid off. I resisted government assistance for a very long time, but if the church is not going to take care of their people, I’m glad for Food Stamps.
On thing that really bothers me is “entitlements.” Just the word itself is so offensive. I don’t feel entitled to anything! It’s an attitude that bothers me and I have to fight it, because it is an easy to one to pick up.
Growing up, we qualified for free lunches. Daddy was in the Navy and we lived in an expensive place. We never used the lunches or anything thing else we qualified for because of low income. I think that taught us a lot of how to get along with what we have.
Thank you for posting this question! It’s good to see the responses!
Thanks for the good common sense approach, Tawra!
I agree, before anything, approach the Lord in prayer.
By the way, in an earlier post, you remarked about not being into carbon footprints ect. but after reading your
posts for a year, you are greener than green! Use it up, wear it out and don’t spend/ consume unecessarily. I find
your approach to life refreshingly simple, do-able, and very much in harmony with the world I live in.
Thanks for all you share.
I am a teacher in a public school in which 70% of our students receive free or partially-reduced meals. It is disheartening to see the waste and contradictions. Many children eat little or none of their free or reduced meals, and yet they bring 85 cents every day to buy ice cream (sold in the cafeteria). And, as someone else has already commented, the same children have expensive clothing, hair styles, cell phones, etc. There is something very, very wrong with the system. I do not have a problem with people receiving assistance when it is truly needed. However, too many people also know how to work the system!
Hi, just wanted to comment on ” we paid generously into the welfare system.”. Statistically, the average household pays 24 dollars per year to support welfare. Not very much when Jesus told us to “feed the hungry.”. Thanks.
Growing up in a military family, we qualified for so many government programs, but my parents never used them. I did get free lunch in 6th grade and again in high school, because I worked in the cafeteria and EARNED my free lunch.
“Will work for food!”
To be fair, we have used food stamps for our family in these past couple years. My husband’s industry is very unstable and he has had a hard time getting a living wage. I have a part time job, but it has not been enough. Food stamps has been very helpful. It’s not what I wanted to do, but we needed to feed our family. I look forward to being able to give them up.
Seems to me that so many are worried about accepting assistance when they need it because they fear they will be perceived as “abusing the system”. Might it be better if we spend a little less time judging whether or not others are abusing the system and then we don’t have to fear that same judgement. We do not know the circumstances others have for why they are in a position of need. The percentage of people abusing aid is so small in comparison to those truly in need. I think I read somewhere that it was between 1-3%, so why waste so much energy judging others and fearing for yourself and loved ones. We are supposedly a great nation, so we should be able to assist those who feel they are in need. Most people of faith should know the difference between what is need, vs greed, so accepting assistance should not be so troubling. I remember once being told that denying assistance is robbing others of the blessings of giving. (I suppose that could be true for our schools, too. They can use all the blessings they can get, don’t ya think?)
I would pray about it…. yet at some time we must realize America can’t sustain all the programs they offer. I’d hate to see us end up like Greece.
That’s it! We may in to the system for years, but it’s still not enough to cover the people who are using it. I don’t want to take part in spoiling our nation.
I work for a school district as a lunch lady. I know for a fact that when schools offer fresh fruits and vegetables, students have a greater tendency to choose these foods. If they do not choose them, then you have to look at what they are offered at home. If the food from home is cheaper processed foods then students, being human beings, have a tendency to continue to eat that type of food. The federal regulations state that at least half a cup of fruit and or vegetables must be put on a student’s tray. If the student does not eat it that is his/her choice; no one is forcing them to eat it or not.
I know fresh foods can be more expensive, but when they are in seeason and something is always in season even in winter look at winter vegetables, these things can be obtained and provided for healthier alternatives at a lower cost. For information on this go to any state university’s extension service online (either at home or your local library) and look up healthy cooking and foods. You can also grow some vegetables in pots indoors in the winter; tomatoes, carrots, parsnip, small potatoes; wrap the pots in old towels for more warmth for them. Look up growing vegetables indoors in winter at the extension services as well.
Basically what I am saying is people, kids included, are responsible for what they put in their own mouths. If you feel the free lunch is not for you then do not have your kids take it if they qualify, but just remember with your taxes, you are already paying for it anyway, so why not offer it as an alternative for your kids. They may surprise you and take the healthier stuff.
We also have all kinds of info on this same topic all over our website. We go into great detail of what types to things to eat, portion size and most of all inexpensive healthy things to use.
grizzly bear mom
I would take WIC or food stamps over prepared school meals. I believe that I can provide more nutritious food to my family than the school does.
Actually I have been to school a few times with my grandkids over the years and they have had some pretty good looking lunches and that seemed very healthy too. It may depend on where you live. When I worked in the school cafeteria the kids would get things like green beans, an orange, homemade (and I mean homemade) rolls, chicken and tater tots. All things I would serve at home.
Melinda wrote “…I run a tight ship and try to be a good steward with the resources the Lord gives us…”.
I would only suggest that if you want to do some further study it might benefit her to study on Pride and how it is a downfall to some Christians. Pride is where you think you are better than others and then things tend to fall apart.
If your income is low I suggest you consider finding a source of income so you can hold on to your pride and not accept help on your expenses or you accept that you don’t have enough income and ask for help.
Just saying, the program is there for those who it will help.
Free lunch is given to those who have a very low income. Reduced cost lunches are given to those who have a moderate income up to almost a middle income, did you see that? I have a friend who has 3 kids and she works for the state and has a livable income. She qualifies for reduced income lunches. She does take that help because her kids are worth it and she can use the saved money for other things for them.
We all as Christians have something we need to fix or deal with besides pride there is judging and many other things. That is probably why the Bible says we should take care of our own sins first and then we can confront others but it says to do it in love, with gentleness, and being tenderhearted. I think we should careful and spend time in pray for that person before we “Let them have it.”with a rebuke.
I am a parent of little ones and a director of school nutrition at a school district (manage several school cafeterias). I benefits the school district and the cafeterias for all free students to take free meals. Every year I have about 5 different parents call and ask to “decline free benefits” and pay for their student’s meals. I explain that this is a federally funded program, so local taxes and school dollars are not spent on feeding free students. Schools benefit from having free eligible students because more federal dollars are given to schools with higher free/ reduced students. And even if your students do not qualify for free or reduced meals during the school year, make sure to take advantage of free summer meals in your area, as these meals again are paid from federal monies, and is a benefit to your school district.
Many years ago my father was out of work and I qualified for a free physical exam by the school doctor. My mother was absolutely mortified that we had to take the assistance, and we had to because I was moving up to junior high school and needed that physical.
My father did get another job and we never had to be in that position again. That being said, you qualify for the program because your income is at a certain level. If you saved money in this area, you would have an emergency cushion for home repairs, car repairs, accidents and illness. I would take advantage if I were you.
I am a teacher. Everything is computerized on a card. All students, no matter what they pay, have the same card. No one will know that they are getting free food. That is a really positive change from when I started teaching.
Last year my son began attending a therapeutic school for special needs children. Among about a hundred other forms I was required to complete, was the request/approval form for reduced/free lunches. I did not complete the form and told the administrator that I did not think my family financially qualified for the program. His reply was that everyone else in the school qualified (wink, wink), and that the school was not equipped to accept payments for their lunch program. I then told him I would send a lunch from my son from home and was told that everyone eats hot lunch. Don’t worry about it. Just sign the form. We’ll take care of it. And we wonder why our taxes are so high.
That is so true Terry – great comment. Why people think these things are all free is beyond me. Someone has to pay for them. I get very frustrated because I have gone without a lot over the years so others don’t have to sacrifice to support me. Even when I had very little I would still try to give some to food banks and places. In order to do that I was going without even making coffee at home for myself, no pop, candy, going out to eat or anything to do this so I get frustrated when people who spend $5 or more on a coffee, go out to eat, drive a new car and then say I just don’t know what I am going to do because I don’t have enough to buy groceries and the first thing everyone says it is oh you need to go to a food bank. I have stopped giving to food banks because most of the people who go there have way more money than what I have. Tawra had the same thing happen to her at school with the backpacks that are filled with school supplies. She wasn’t going to use them even though they qualified and the school secretary was begging her to take some because she said they had given them to everyone and still have piles leftover.
Anyway you are so right in saying “And people wonder why our taxes are so high”. Who do they think is going to pay for these “special” programs. Oh and now where I live they are feeding the kids breakfast too and send home meals for them to have on the weekends. Before you all holler, yes there are some who really need this but it has gotten out of control and no one wants to say anything because everyone will jump them and accuse them of being unloving and unkind. Things have gotten so twisted.
There are times this program is necessary. I had a raised a family by myself, then, when I thought I was done raising children. But, God decided that I was not done being a mother. I was called to take in two children at a moment’s notice, it took awhile for my budget to come together because the kids needed so many necessary things that first year. The school lunch program was greatly appreciated by me.