It is a dilemma faced by many school lunch line workers. What do you do when a kid wants something to eat but has no money and/or has not been qualified for federal lunch reimbursement? You either turn away a hungry child or take a financial hit. Of course, you indulge kids too often and they will keep coming back, letting the problem snowball.
The Methuen (MA) School District has one solution: offer such customers a plain cheese sandwich on white bread with a fruit cup and a serving of plain white milk The combo meets FDA nutritional requirements while remaining fairly inexpensive and—hopefully—bland enough to discourage repeat requests, says district business administrator Joseph Salvo.
"Some kids will say they don't have lunch money so they can get a free meal and then use the money they get for lunch for other things," Salvo explains. In other cases, he adds, families eligible for free/reduced meals have no incentive to fill out and return the necessariy forms if their children get free lunches anyway.
In a letter sent to parents explaining the new cheese sandwich policy, Methuen superintendent Charles Littlefield offered to help parents fill out and return meal reimbursement qualification forms if that was what was keeping their children from having the money to pay for other meal options.
Of course, no system is perfect. After an initial rush in which an average of 175 kids a day got the sandwiches, the count is now down to around 50 a day. "Some actually seem to like it," Salvo says, though he adds that he expects the enthusiasm to diminish as the year wears on.
Methuen has 7,200 students in four K-8 and one high school buildings.