School meals, like this sloppy Joe, chocolate milk, pear and baby carrots, support kids and local farmers. (Jennifer Bardsley)

School meals, like this sloppy Joe, chocolate milk, pear and baby carrots, support kids and local farmers. (Jennifer Bardsley)

School lunch: Every child deserves to eat, so let’s feed them well

Breakfast and lunch are now free for all students in the Edmonds School District. Here’s what else we can do.

When the Edmonds School District was virtual for most of the year, there was a big push for all families, regardless of income level, to collect free nutrition kits.

The reasoning was No. 1 it kept school staff employed, and No. 2 it made families that truly needed the food feel less awkward about collecting it. I’ll add a third reason that I never heard mentioned, which is No. 3 it would aid farmers since the Farm Bill directly ties to school-nutrition funding.

The kits that the Edmonds School District School and Nutrition Services staff put together were impressive. In fact, they were so well done that I thought perhaps I should write a column about them to help spread the word that the food was available. But I never picked up a kit, because to take food assistance we didn’t need felt weird.

Please note that I have zero judgement for parents who did pick up the kits when their finances didn’t require aid. I definitely see the argument for doing so to support the three reasons I listed above.

Now students have the option of full-time in-person learning again, and one of the biggest changes between today and two years ago is that breakfast and lunch are free for all students in our district. Making kids and teens feel less awkward about eating school meals is a wonderful thing, and I appreciate that local farmers, like the suppliers of Darigold milk, are supported.

But the jump from ideals to reality is rough.

Due to labor shortages, supply chain hiccups and other pandemic issues, there are occasional stretches where instead of serving hot food, they serve cold grab-and-go meals. So the kids who really needed a hot meal receive cold meals and everyone — whether they needed help or not — can eat for free.

Another issue is that if you take a carton of milk on its own you have to pay for it, but if you take the whole lunch kit you get the milk for free. Many kids want the milk but not the meals. Uneaten food gets thrown away. That rule comes directly from Washington, D.C., and is related to school-nutrition funding.

I don’t want the government spending money on food that is thrown away. I would much rather the money go toward offering better meals to the students who need them. But that’s not how it works.

My daughter packs her lunch every day. My son sometimes eats the school lunch, sometimes packs his own and occasionally uses his summer job money to pay his sister to pack a lunch for him. Even at home, it all comes down to labor and funding.

The next time you meet a school lunch lady, tell her thank you. She — or he — has an incredibly important job. Let’s also thank the Washington farmers who supply Darigold milk. They have legions of lunchroom fans.

Jennifer Bardsley publishes books under her own name and the pseudonym Louise Cypress. Find her online on Instagram @jenniferbardsleyauthor, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as Jennifer Bardsley Author. Email her at teachingmybabytoread@gmail.com.

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