Minnesota high school threw away hot lunches for students with over $15 of lunch debt

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/11/13/minnesota-high-school-threw-aw.html


The only way I see this sort of story ceasing to be a thing is for all meals at all public schools to be free of charge to all students.


So, I’m a big fan of the fact that if we’re offering kids a public education, we can cover breakfast and lunch as part of that as well. At the end of the day, it doesn’t seem like much to cover breakfast and lunch costs, and I think that will pay dividends in terms of the costs of zonked-out hungry students and the costs of managing subsidized school lunch programs for low-income students.

Before you start cheering, I still bristle at the protests over school lunch debts. These policies aren’t there to penalize the truly poor students - there is a National School Lunch Program that provides very low cost or free school lunches to students. These penalties are here to penalize either students who pocket the lunch money their parents give them or those whose parents can pay but do not. This genuinely is not about penalizing the genuinely poor, it’s about penalizing the negligent.

Change my mind.



I don’t know if this will change your mind, but here is some actual data…

That’s somewhat simplified, but here’s my source.

Again, somewhat simplified, so here’s my source

Edit to add:
Here’s some data for the cost of renting in the city the specific high school serves


this was public shaming, which is quite far beyond anything anyone could hide behind a “oops well intentioned rules” bit.

It is absolutely crucial for any public school to assess how rules or policies affect all students regardless of class/income/race/gender/whatever.

any lunch system that penalizes the non-payers clearly did not do this minimal assessment and is pretty blind to the reality situations that so many people face daily.


this. making sure all kids get fed well while they are at school seems like a no brainer. programs that have been studied have been shown to have huge positive impacts. thanks for speaking up about this.

i’d rather see money go to kids and education than the war machine if one had to choose.



I’m changing my mind right now.


redesigned, I’ve had a child in public schools. If I had to tell you the insane number of calls and USPS letters we received emphasizing that we should enroll the child for free or subsidized lunches, even though we made enough to not qualify and where we could ensure that they had healthy meals, you wouldn’t believe me. There are safeguards in place here that those with school-age children are well aware of.

The average cost of school lunch is ~$2.50 a meal, which ends up being less than $500/year for most students. If a family of three is making $40k/year, they can either afford $500/year for their child to eat lunch or to put a PB&J and an apple - which costs less than $1 virtually everywhere in the US - in a bag for the student to take with them.

Yes, it’s public shaming. In most places, this is public shaming of the affluent, those students who are pocketing the money or racking up money in the school buying snacks. Seriously, show me any studies that point out that lunch debt policies are impacting those less than hundreds of percent over the poverty line.

Again, I’m with you. I think it’s fine for the US to provide free breakfasts and lunches to students. However, I also think that given the extent of the programs for the poor and those above the poverty line, that the majority of the students the lunch debt programs impact come from reasonably affluent families. Sorry.


Why is it these schools only ‘apologize’ and promise to do better by their students when they get negative publicity? I’ve seen stories like this where parents had previously spoke with administrative people to no avail. I’m with davide405: lunches need to be part of public schools’ expense.


Because all our systems are broken, and many people are far more concerned with ‘keeping up appearances’ than they are with actually fixing any problems.


Was it the school that threw away the lunches? Or was it some mean lunch lady? (or lunch man)

My wife is on a school board, so I’ve learned a lot about this.

There are far too many children who are eligible for “free and reduced lunch” but don’t sign up for it. In many cases, it’s because of a cultural belief that signing up is shameful. In others, Latino parents are afraid that signing up will imperil their immigration status, as for example when the federal government announced that taking any form of public assistance would be reason to be denied a green card.

Giving a free lunch to every kid, regardless of their means, would avoid these problems and feed kids who would otherwise go hungry. The school district wants badly to do that.


I have said this before and will so again now…


The entire system and process for school lunches is borked. The only solution is the one that works for all people…free breakfast and lunch for all students in public education. period. end of story.


Throwing away good food. So, how does the school figure that into their budget and fiscal responsibility (much more, moral responsibility)?


Despite my messages above - and I do believe that lunch debt programs target the reasonably affluent and not the poor - throwing away food is total BS any way you slice it.


In Richfield, MN, it’s $2.95

What if that family of three is a single mother with two kids?

Do you have any basis for that speculation? Have you interviewed anyone who has been affected? Do you know of any surveys that we could look at that would rise above the level of anecdote?

Edit to add:

I 100% agree with you on this point :slightly_smiling_face:


Let me get this straight.

So the people in charge at that school, or at least those in charge of running the school’s cafeteria…

  • did not save the food for tomorrow’s meatloaf or soup;
  • did not put in the fridge to be donated later that day to food pantries or food banks (like this one in St. Paul ), nursing homes, prisons, soup kitchens, church programs; and
  • did not refrain from dishing out the servings upon perhaps checking in with the student receiving it, but instead loaded the tray or plate of that student getting a meal, then trashed that loaded plate and then plated a cold meal for the same student.

Are the fields so very rich in Richfield, Minnesota that food waste is not considered repugnant? Where on earth in any intact culture is wasting food considered a desirable thing?

That’s in Hennepin County.
Hunger stats (sorry, best available are from 2015):



Yes. This is Job 1.

Another thing these kids will learn isn’t merely that cruelty is the point, but that the school will intentionally waste its money–which is of course taxpayer monies, along with the labor of farmers and workers and the energy of the land itself, as the school humiliates these kids in the company of peers.

What a learning institution.

Be careful what you teach children. I find they tend to have long memories at this age. I was a child once myself.