Three ways you can fight school lunch shaming in America

Irene, the community school coordinator, talks to Elijah
September 14, 2019
by Paul Morello

Imagine a little kid at school, in line for his daily lunch. He might not have eaten yet today, he might not have even had anything since he left school the day before. Then, when he gets to the cashier, it’s discovered that his school meal account is empty — by no fault of his own. Rather than being treated with compassion, the food on his tray is taken away.

This is a form of lunch shaming, and it’s a lot more common than you might think. Throughout the country, school districts have engaged in this kind of punishment for unpaid school meals — ranging from stamping children’s hands to making students do chores to earn their meals to throwing the uneaten food in the trash.

For any child, public lunch shaming can be stigmatizing and embarrassing. And for a child facing hunger, the actions add to an already significant level of stress that they’re facing. You can help. Here are three ways that you can fight school lunch shaming this year:

1. Send a message to stop lunch shaming in America

First and foremost, lunch shaming in schools should be outlawed. Millions of kids rely on school meals for the nutrition they need to get through the day. But singling children out in front of classmates because their parents are behind on bills is just plain wrong. Children should be excluded from communications regarding unpaid meal debt. Join us and others across the country by sending a message to Congress that shows your support to stop lunch shaming once and for all.

2. Ask school districts to make their meal debt policies public.

Schools have many different strategies for dealing with unpaid meal debt. Some strategies are protective of the health and dignity of children who rely on those meals, while others can stigmatize and humiliate children for something they’re helpless to change. Reaching out to your local school or district office and asking them to share their policies publicly — such as on the school’s website — can allow for transparency and important feedback from the community.

3. Educate your friends and family about the importance of school meal programs.

The National School Breakfast and National School Lunch Program are federal child nutrition programs and are the most important ways to help millions of children across America facing hunger. More than 30 million children receive free or reduced cost school meals. Telling your friends and family about the importance of the program and supporting local initiatives to keep them strong will help millions of children struggling with hunger. 

No child should be denied a meal because of their ability to pay. This fall, join us in ending public lunch shaming in schools.