Nashville Public Schools Expands Free-Dinner Program for Students

Published January 11, 2017

The Metro Nashville Public Schools district announced it is expanding its after-school program to include dinner for students at 35 locations.

The district has been participating in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Child and Adult Care Food Program for three years. It announced in November it would expand the program from 12 locations to 35. Students in applicable after-school programs are eligible for the meals.

“After getting breakfast and lunch at no cost, this third meal ensures students are going home with supper and not just snack meals in the evening,” Jennifer Bell, Metro Schools’ director of extended learning, said in a statement. “It is a full meal, touching all food groups required for a healthy dinner.”

Making School ‘Center of Life’

Shane Vander Hart, editor of Truth in American Education, says government officials are seeking to replace the home with school.

“This particular program and ones like it are part of a vision to make the school the center of community life,” Vander Hart said. “Tennessee’s own U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander has advocated in the past for a ‘new American school’ that would be open year-round from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and serve children from three months of age to age 18. Why? Because babies have needs, and those needs may have to be served by the school, at least according to Sen. Alexander.

“While we don’t want to see children fall through the cracks, schools become less effective academically if their focus is on providing social services,” Vander Hart said. “There are programs, both public and private, that help families in need. Keeping kids later, interrupting the family dinner, ultimately does not do these children any good. Kids succeed academically when their parents are involved. In order for parents to be involved, they need to have time with their kids, which gets supplanted by extending the school day and the school year. Schools should be focused on education, and let the feeding and parenting of kids be left to parents where it properly belongs. Parents can replace schools, but schools can never replace parents.”

Cutting Out the Parents

Julie Gunlock, a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum, says research shows more-involved parents raise healthier children.

“What’s very sad about that is that the best research on childhood obesity all agrees on one thing, and that is the more parents are involved in a child’s nutritional development, the healthier they are,” Gunlock said. “We can all talk about how it’s actually the television screen time or the sleeping, but any normal person, anybody with a shred of common sense, knows what those things all have in common: good parenting. You turn the TV off, you put them to bed, you make them a meal; these are all the basics of good parenting. So, with [this extension of the food program,] you have a federal government that is pursuing a policy that is going to do the opposite of making kids healthy.

“It’s going to further detach parents from kids, and as such, kids will probably continue to have obesity problems,” Gunlock said.

Gunlock says policies should encourage parents to care for their own children, not rely on the government.

“This is not exactly a political hot potato,” Gunlock said. “No one wants to say, ‘And we’re cutting hot food for kids.’ The optics of it are terrible. But what the government could do, and what policymakers should be doing, is pursuing policies that encourage parents and point out the research to parents that shows them if you want healthy kids, get more involved in their lives.”

Blaming Childhood Obesity

Gunlock says expanding school meal programs was part of the Obama administration’s agenda to control children.

“The Obama administration actively encourages kids not to be fed at home, but to be fed at school,” Gunlock said. “I think they blame unhealthy at-home eating habits for the childhood obesity problem, so I think Michelle Obama’s position on this is it’s easier to standardize feeding kids when you control it in schools.

“There was a provision in the 2010 school-lunch reform bill that not a lot of people talk about, which expanded the automatic enrollment of the school-lunch program, so instead of a kid’s parent signing him up for the school-lunch program, schools were able to figure out what children were already on the federal welfare programs and automatically enroll them in the lunch program,” Gunlock said. “This existed before, so it wasn’t just Michelle Obama’s school-lunch reform, but the school-lunch reform bill expanded it, and there were incentives: Schools could be rewarded if they [expanded] their enrollment in the school-lunch program. It’s because they think that the way to reduce childhood obesity is by controlling what kids are eating and the way you do that is to diminish the role of parents.”

Elizabeth BeShears ([email protected]) writes from Trussville, Alabama.