Three ways you can fight school lunch shaming

Lunch shaming – when a child is punished for not having enough money to buy a meal at school – needs to end. You can help.

Little girl on bench
September 14, 2017
by Effie Craven

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.

Fortunately, last spring, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that schools across the country are now required to develop policies regarding practices for handling debt from unpaid school meals, drawing attention to a long-standing issue.

For any child, 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. Tell Congress to outlaw “lunch shaming.”
    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. Tell Congress you support the Anti-Lunch Shaming Act of 2017,which would end the humiliation of lunch shaming for kids across the country ›
  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. Encourage schools to maximize participation in the federal child nutrition programs.
    Federal child nutrition programs including the National School Breakfast and National School Lunch Program are the most important ways to help millions of children across the United States facing hunger. By making these programs available to as many children in need as possible, schools can minimize the occurrence of unpaid meal debt and limit lunch shaming in the process. Talk to your school district about how they’re making sure parents know about the resources available for their children, and if there are ways they can do more as a school to ensure hungry children are being connected with critical federal programs.

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