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Food Fight in Wake County Schools

Not very long ago, two brave Beaverdam Elementary teachers addressed the Wake Board of Education with their concerns for hungry students and poor practices in the cafeteria. The teachers at Beaverdam Elementary frequently paid for children's meals to ensure students were able to focus on their studies and not be distracted by their empty bellies. Teachers throughout the school system had reported a common problem. When a student with a full tray was checking out and cannot pay for their meal because their debit account is empty, the untouched food was either thrown away or purchased by the teacher. If thrown away, the child would receive another tray with a vegetable and a fruit, which is usually a juice. It has been a humiliating, embarrassing, tragic, and an unnecessary practice. We commend the county staff for changes in policy. Students will now have a 3 day grace period when their account is depleted. Teachers should no longer be funding meals for their students. Furthermore, WCPSS staff moved mountains to get 28 schools signed up for free food for the remainder of the year and most for next year. No child should be expected to learn while hungry at school. Nor should a child be taught throwing away perfectly good food is an acceptable solution to a money problem.

That isn't and hasn't been the only way children are taught to waste food. Policies require children to throw away unopened juices and milk that cafeteria staff are required to put on their tray in order to go peacefully through check out. Staff report many cartons of unopened milk, juice, fresh untouched fruit are tossed daily. A substitute witnessed a child trying to put the milk back in the refrigerated cooler and was reprimanded rather than praised for not wasting food. Similar practices were noted with containers of un-opened juice that are tossed or when possible, given to a fellow classmate. Uneaten bananas and apples are tossed at an astounding rate.

We wish that was not the only problem in the cafeteria. You would think the foods served would be a high quality and nutritious. Take a look at the Honey Scooters served for breakfast. Notice the sodium and sugar contents. If a child ate cereal everyday at school, their sodium and sugar consumption would be well over guidelines. We understand there are new standards for next year and hope there will be great improvement. We also hope for transparency. We have not found a source for information on school hot dogs.

If you have a child in WCPSS (or any other public school), have lunch with them. Yes, it will cost you a small fortune but you will gain insight on whether you should be allowing your child to eat 'school food' or packing their lunch.

Final thoughts- Waste reduction could be done on many levels, from cessation of tossing unopened milks and juices to ceasing the practice of depriving children of a nutritious meal because a parent neglected or could not afford to put money on an account. Replacing disposable trays and utensils with washable products should be considered environmentally friendly. When possible, pack your child's lunch. You know best what they will and will not eat.

As the 2023-2024 school year closes out, consider reaching out to your school board representative. Invite them to join you for lunch at your child's school...unannounced. Encourage them to find solutions for all hungry children throughout the county, poor food quality, and greener practices for our cafeterias. Moving away from self serve lines, might be another practice that has outlived it's usefulness and practicality. Just saying...

WCPSS enrollment is approximately 158,000 students. If only half of the students buy school lunches, then 14,220,000 recycled paper trays go into the dump each year.

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