Free School Lunch Trial

An article regarding a very successful 4 week trial of free school lunches in a Tasmanian school.

According to the article, most countries provide school lunches so surely Australia can follow suit.

The barber who cut my hair before the pandemic told me that when she went to school in Wales, they used to get a 3 course free school lunch.

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A follow up article.

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Being in Tasmania and with a child at school age, I am not supportive of the program and the existing government’s further trial rollout. It was also policy adopted by the ALP to be rolled out in every school if they won the election. There are a number of reasons for not supporting…the primary ones I have are:

  • parents should be responsible for the children’s lunchboxes. Personally we wouldn’t want a bureaucrat deciding what is best for our child … we are happy to do this ourselves.
  • children need to be aware of and involved in shopping for food and its preparation, including their own lunches. Doing so allows the transfer of information/education to one’s children and installs potentially good shopping and eating habits for life. Having ready made lunches only reinforces society move towards a quick fix for everything. We believe, along with other parents, that schools providing lunches only reinforces the quick solution meals that others prepare which may encourage the children to more likely buy quick meals (fast food/pre-prepared meals) which may not necessary be the healthy long term option.
  • while the program may be well funded to start with, it will come under budgetary pressure to reduce costs over time (such as that which has occurred in other countries). This results in a reduction of food quality and move towards cheaper, more processed foods.

There will be arguments that some of the above points are exactly why the government needs to feed children at school…parents don’t know what a good diet is anymore…parents aren’t the best educators in relation to food etc. The solution is a bandaid as it treats the symptoms and not the underlying problem. If the underlying problem is solved, then children may have healthier long term lives…rather than getting one meal a day when at school.

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True but I don’t know how you treat the root cause nor if it is appropriate to do it through schools.

The time I was closely involved with a primary school there were serious problems relating to some of the children getting a decent feed. The problem becomes visible in two parts.

The first was the school canteen. There was a running battle that went on for years to make food available that was both tasty and reasonably healthy at a fair price. Many members of the P & C thought whatever sold well was best because it was run on volunteer labour and money was always tight.

This campaign had the corollary that food that was very unhealthy needed to be removed because too many parents dropped all responsibility by giving their children money (in some cases too much) and making no effort to check what the kids ate. Some came from fairly well-off families and would spend all day eating pies, cakes, sweets and soft-drink and buying the same for their mates if given the opportunity. It was only after much lobbying and the support of the Healthy Schools campaign that the canteen had a reasonable menu of good food and just a few sweet treats.

The second part is more at the other end of the spectrum where for a number of reasons including; poverty, mental illness and substance abuse children were not sent to school well prepared. Not only did some children not get a decent lunch but sometimes no lunch or breakfast either. There was a clandestine scheme run by the teachers out of their own pocket to provide breakfast for some pupils because they discovered the reason some were disruptive or lacked concentration was they were perpetually hungry. I am not making this up, nor is it hearsay.

This happened at a school that was in a middle to upper middle class area. Most of the parents were well educated and reasonably well off. I would imagine the problems would have been different, possibly worse, in a poorer one.

We don’t like to think that in our rich county little kids go hungry but it happens and far too often for my liking. It is correct in principle to say that this is first the parents’ responsibility. But what about the parents who cannot or will not take it? If the school isn’t where the problem is addressed where?

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It is challenging, but kids are at home far more than schools. The system shouldn’t one based in the ‘worst’ parents in society. Such policies potentially encourage more parents to further abscond their responsibilities and leaving it to others.

Children leave school eventually, and such programmes don’t set them up for a healthy food future.

Schools our child has gone to have breakfast clubs to feed children from homes where they don’t get breakfast…amazing the number of kids lining up everyday, including those we know who have breakfast at home. When raising this with the P&Cs, they are happy for children to overeat (two breakfasts with cornflakes and store brand Nutragrain and white bread toast with cheap jam at schools) and buy poor quality breakfast things as this is the ‘only things kids eat’. They have trialled more nutritious breakfast items (brown bread, Weetbix etc) but stopped due to complaints of parents/kids…and many kids wasting them or chosing not to eat them. It appears eating junky type foods is better than providing healthy options only eaten by some.

Edit: The existing school has a milk bar across the road…and guess where many kids spend their tuckshop/pocket money before school.

So they should but some fail to attend to their responsiblies.

I would favour an opt in/opt out system whereby caring and capable parents can decide that their kids will bring their own lunches to school.

Those from poor socio-economic homes will still get a healty lunch instead of going without.

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I lived and worked in a mining town where there was a sharp divide between the “ordinary” worker struggling with excessive rentals and those at the mines who were on $100k salaries with subsidised rents. A few charities got together to fund breakfasts for children at the local schools - it ended up feeding mine families who found it easier to send them to school without breakfast and let someone else do it. The families doing it tough didn’t want to take charity and the charities struggled to get volunteers.

I also worked for a Commonwealth Education unit that funded remote schools in an effort to overcome geographic disadvantage (provide artists, sports coaches, provide transport, etc). One of the schools decided to use the bus and the funding to take the children (whole school) to the Roadhouse to provide them all with breakfast and lunch each school day. Their diet was horrible, straight out of the Hot Box, but the teacher provided statistics to say the attendance, academic performance etc had improved. It was scrapped because it did not address geographic disadvantage (the children all lived within 1km of the school and the shops) and the grant was not to be used for food except in exceptional circumstances (eg a meal provided as part of a train fare).

Not a good idea to take the nutrition responsibility away from parents and children.

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What about the people less responsible, less able, or less economically stable than yourself?

It is often the case a bandaid can be applied to a wound, but diagnosing why it is ‘bleeding’ and treating it is a lot harder when it is an underlying social issue depending on the human condition, political ideology, and disparate life views.

Is going without any good meal per day better than that one per day?

What is possible is not always what is best but it is often better than standing by or lecturing on the shortcomings of ‘whatever is proposed’ and awaiting or demanding something better prior to doing anything positive.

Pointing at where it failed is OK. Were there any positive outcomes and what was the ratio of better vs what you described?

In cases cited the parents appear to be the problem, but should the children pay the price, and how does one help the children? The discussion is something like unemployment - there will always be some dole bludgers, and there will always be some people who battle and need help from time to time.

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Many US school districts provide subsidised or free lunches for those who cannot afford it. It stigmatises them more often than not in some districts and is the norm in others.

It is obvious there are opposing ideological and thus life views on personal responsibility vs government assistance, and how and whether there should be any, or some, or none.

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The lady who used to cut my hair before the pandemic told me she grew up in Wales, and that the schools used to provide a 3 course lunch for all the students. Soup, main course and dessert.

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This is a common point. The scheme that I saw was aimed at avoiding that as much as possible by not drawing attention to the kids who were fed before school. It reduced the incidence of finger pointing in the playground and avoided action by some parents who might try to head it off. Being unable to provide does not mean you will accept your children taking charity.

If your parents are incompetent it is an added burden having to accept charity publicly. I think we all know how horridly cruel the schoolyard can be.

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There are other ways which the same outcome can be achieved without creating and potential stigma…to those which may need financial support.

An example would be provide voucher for use at a supermarket where purchases are limited to healthy foods, suitable for the lunch box. Limiting the vouchers to healthy options also ensures the foods are purchased and can also be used to educate parents on what foods are suitable for the school lunchbox. While it could be argued that the vouchers won’t be used or parents may still provide different food for their children for lunch, the same argument applies for school canteen made foods dished out to students for lunch.

Would ‘you’ be the arbiter of that? Would ‘you’ use health stars, or what metric suits ‘your’ ideal? Some would promote the ‘coal burger’ or ‘gas burger’ (yes, flippant but should make the point). Try to buy something not approved and a red light flashes and siren blares to alert everyone on the bad choice? Or, is the charge just declined… are ‘approved items’ tagged on the shelves? Does the young person go in with a list? So many questions… Maybe the Indue cards could be adapted since they are reportedly going so well, as well as not so well?

I know some parents I will class as dreamers. They always intend to do better and do the right thing, but they never get around to it.

There have been reports about some ‘worried teachers’ sending lunch boxes home with shaming notes; the subsequent photos of the offending lunches did not look all that bad even if not suiting the ideal lunch with fruits and veg and nothing but goodness.

That is exactly what the bureaucrats are doing for school lunches. One can’t criticise that it isn’t acceptable for food vouchers, but then accept it is okay in the school canteen.

It seems on one hand you are not a fan of bureaucrats doing it, but think someone should? Is an independent blue ribbon appointed committee different from ‘bureaucrats’? ← Poorly worded, but I trust you see my intent - that it is a difficult to impossible task, or at least hard enough so a group will be unhappy with whatever edicts are made and at the end of the day it is a judgement call on what is in and out on the menu.

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I was involved with a charity which did this. Vouchers were provided for purchases of supermarket goods and takeaway meals. There were strict limitations. They could not purchase alcohol, cigarettes, lollies, chocolate, crisps, deli items, soft drink, ice creams; and in some cases sweet biscuits, milo, & other things. Takeaway was restricted to the roast meat & veg meal with no substitutions. No cash refunds given. It didn’t stop people complaining loudly that they wanted KFC type food or ciggies and some walked away if they couldn’t get that, which led us to wonder just how hungry they were.

The town also had a church roster because too many were going door to door to get bus tickets, food, cash etc. Each week only one church would hand out relief. I used to hear the bus drivers on the UHF warning each other about the bloke trying to get a refund on his bus ticket.
I’ll admit to getting free meals when I was a Uni student - it was a game to us - sneaking in on homeless soup kitchens, etc. Only when I was older did I realise the work and donations that that went into providing these and the cost to society.

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I was one of sorts in the past. Decisions are often made which may not be in the best interest of those who are impacted by the decisions. Often they are consensus or what is acceptable by the broader public or politically.

Unfortunately it demonstrates that when there things done in what may be called the public interest, they have potential to be abused/misused.