New School Lunches Undermine Family Bonds

Published June 26, 2014

When people do not feed, talk to, read to, discipline, or provide shelter to their children, is it still appropriate to call these people parents? Across the country, school districts are now able to phase in a federal program that provides taxpayer-funded breakfast and lunch to every single child enrolled in the school. That’s every child, regardless of the family’s ability to pay. A child who attends that school and has millionaire parents can receive taxpayer-funded breakfast and lunch every single school day.

The new program is called “community eligibility.” A school can opt in if at least two in five of its students live in a low-income family or a family that receives welfare from various programs. That means a school can join this program even if the majority of its students are from middle- or high-income families. This is all part of Michelle Obama’s 2010 school lunch law, which already has been making headlines because its one-size-fits-all regulations leave some kids hungry after lunch and others throwing half their taxpayer-funded lunches straight into the dumpster. But in the age of omnibus legislation, federal bureaucrats weren’t content just to make schools serve the same-size lunch. Now they want to force it on everyone’s children.

There is no reason the federal government ought to be involved with local food production and consumption. No one in a federal bureaucracy knows the names of the millions of children already receiving school lunch subsidies, let alone their unique nutritional needs. The most appropriate people to determine such an intimate thing are those closest to the child. Those will never be distant bureaucrats. Furthermore, the United States is in a fiscal crisis. The last thing we should be doing now is going deeper into debt our kids will have to pay off to feed children whose families can easily afford to feed them with their own money today.

Besides the financial insanity of such a program, it feeds deeper social problems. It undermines one of the most precious relationships in society: that between parent and child. 

A child is used to having his basic needs met by those who care for him most deeply. When it’s not mom and dad providing for his needs, that relationship is attenuated. Serving “free” food to children undermines what all children, but especially poor children, need most: a close, loving, long-term relationship with an adult. Scientific studies provide overwhelmingly strong evidence that a close relationship between parent and child may be the number one ingredient in a child’s ability to navigate life well. Undermining this, even with something as simple and positive-sounding as “free” food, has terrible social consequences.

Our society is already seeing some of these consequences. Ask any long-time teacher about parental involvement. She will tell you parents no longer show strong relationships with their children. Parents are increasingly content to let other people, such as teachers, do what is rightly the parents’ work. Consequently, teachers are so busy substitute-parenting that they often don’t have time to teach. And the children suffer for it. When children suffer, of course, so will society.

Parents yearn to have good relationships with their children, and we all benefit when they do. Instead of undermining families, government programs should either strengthen those crucial family bonds or be abolished.