Should elementary schools ban fast food during school hours?

Photo: anatols (iStock)

The school year got off to a bumpy start in Richmond, Missouri, where Dear Elementary school posted the following new policy on its Facebook page:

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The ban appears to have affected the entire district. Comments on that post included parents both for and against the new anti-fast-food rule. Reading between the FB lines, it seems that a popular way to celebrate your kid’s birthday at Dear Elementary was to show up with some fast food and surprise them at lunch. Because nothing says happy birthday like a Happy Meal, amirite?

Kansas City station Fox4 stepped in, quoting parents who accused the school of overstepping: “It’s up to parents what their children eat.” Another Facebook commenter agreed, “The schools [sic] sole responsibility is to provide a safe, positive learning environment for my children to get an education. They are not, and will not be making parenting decisions for my children.”

As a parent, it’s difficult for me to comment because I can’t even imagine a scenario that would involve fast-food delivery at my kids’ public school. I’m barely allowed in the office to bring them a forgotten water bottle (they run a tight ship over there, and rightly so). Granted, I don’t imagine the school lunches, unfortunately, are all that nutritious (do my kids really eat that piece of fruit if I’m not standing over them?), or that a box of Lunchables (a.k.a., “Mom gives up”) offers many more nutrients than that Happy Meal does.

But (and this is a big but), isn’t fast food acknowledged as a horrible habit to get into, especially at such a young age? If this was a ban at a high school, I would say, yep, that ship has likely sailed. Elementary school, though, seems like a prime opportunity to get the kids to pack their own lunches if they don’t like the school lunch (believe me, I’m trying), and not fall back on a 10-piece box of nuggets, as this one dad suggests as a convenient Dear Elementary cafeteria drop-off. Yes, parents should be in charge of their child’s diet decisions, but hopefully those decisions would be good ones. As I’ve learned with my own picky eater conundrums, I can’t force-feed my kid broccoli, but I can still make it available (or perhaps dump a cheese sauce on it) until they finally cave. If I offered them McNuggets instead? Broccoli would not stand a chance.

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I am sadly familiar with the drive-thru escape route to feed a starving kid post-soccer, or on a Friday night when I barely have the energy to steer the car correctly. Undoubtedly, Dear Elementary parents, there will be plenty of Happy Meals in your child’s future. Maybe just not at school.

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About the author

Gwen Ihnat

Gwen Ihnat is the Editorial Coordinator for The A.V. Club.