Originally written by experts at School of Education Online

What is lunch shaming? Imagine a high school cafeteria in which a student’s meal is taken away and thrown in the trash in front of his peers because his lunch account had an outstanding balance of $4.95. In another school, a student’s breakfast was thrown away due to a 30-cent debt. And one school denied a child breakfast even though the child’s mother told the school over the phone that she was on her way there to pay for it.

These scenarios are just a few examples of lunch shaming, a practice in many schools that is intended to shame students and their parents into paying overdue meal bills to the schools.

The detrimental impact of lunch shaming on students extends beyond the embarrassment and indignities they experience from being treated as inferior. A lack of regular nutritious meals affects students’ physical and mental health; it also impairs their cognitive ability. By examining the causes of lunch shaming, parents, educators, and policy makers can devise winning strategies to combat the practice.


How Flawed School Funding Leads to Lunch Shaming

The American Bar Association (ABA) states that lunch shaming is the result of the way schools fund their breakfast and lunch programs. State and federal government agencies place students into two categories: those who qualify for assistance under the USDA program’s guidelines and those who must pay the set price for school-provided meals.

However, many students fall into a third category: their family income exceeds the thresholds set by the school lunch programs, but the families cannot afford to pay for their school meals. While every state operates some form of school lunch program, many of these programs are “optional and self-supporting,” according to the ABA. This prevents them from receiving government funding, although they may accept federal and state cash aid, federal commodities, and charitable donations.


The Importance of Nutritious Meals to Student Success

Lunch shaming highlights the connection between nutritious meals and academic performance. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 is intended to help schools provide balanced meals to children during the school day. The USDA cites a Harvard survey that found children ate 16 percent more vegetables and 23 percent more fruit in their school lunches as a result of the law, with no increase in food waste. In addition, schools have recorded a $200 million increase in revenue from school lunches.

However, the greatest benefit of more nutritious meals for students pertains to academic performance. A University of California, Berkeley study concluded that healthier school meals contributed to higher academic test scores.

Since the total number of meals served by schools didn’t increase after more nutritious meals were served, the researchers concluded that the higher test scores were the result of the improved quality of the meals students were served rather than the quantity. The researchers also found that student academic performance increases when schools contract with vendors that offer more nutritious meals even though they may cost more.

Originally posted by School of Education Online: https://soeonline.american.edu/blog/what-is-lunch-shaming

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