Kris’ Corner – School Lunches

August 22, 2023

I just wanted to take a minute and share a thought: kids in foster care might like to take their lunch to school. A fellow adoptive and foster mom friend mentioned this recently and quite honestly, such a thing had never occurred to me…possibly because I mostly fostered little ones who are not school-age. But whether I did or didn’t in the past, I’m thinking about it now and I think it’s great food (pardon the pun) for thought…so let’s talk about school lunch for a minute.

As most of you probably know, kids in foster care qualify for free school lunch. And on the surface that seems really amazing for all parties; for them, because they get a hot lunch every single day, and for you as a foster parent, it means you don’t have to pay for a lunch and packing a lunch does not have to be on your to-do list. That seems like a win-win! But recently, this aforementioned friend of mine, who fosters school-age kids, made a comment about packing a lunch for her foster child. And someone else nearby, who is also a foster parent, asked why she was sending a lunch when he qualified for a free lunch. And her response blew my mind; she said, “But he asked to take his lunch so that’s what we do.”


And I don’t mean that this is anything earth-shattering or ground-breaking, but first I have to point out that it possibly took a lot for him to voice his opinion; I know that’s not the case for every child to freely voice their opinion, but for some kids, especially those who have been beaten down by life and the potential shuffle which foster care may have handed them, this could have been a HUGE deal. And maybe he doesn’t feel like he has much of a voice or opportunity to share his opinion. And maybe the foster mom asked and he gave her an honest answer. Or maybe he just flat out told her that he doesn’t like the school lunch. Any way you look at it, I love that he advocated for himself (regardless of what it took for him to do that) AND she listened!

So you might be thinking, “Yes, but I shouldn’t have to make a lunch when he’s got a free one coming his way each day! It can’t be that bad!”  And while that might be the case, here’s something else to consider: especially for older kids, even if other kids around them don’t know, more than likely the child in care is aware that they get a free lunch. And it’s because they are in care. This is just one more way that he feels different from everyone else. Because other kids (potentially) are bringing their lunches…and that feels a little more normal. And like the other kids have a voice, and their parents have some regard for what they might want. It might not seem like a huge deal to us, but for some kids it is a really big deal.

Now, I realize this is NOT the same thing but I do want to point out there is a flip side, which is actually where I get my argument: when my older boys were little and went to public school, I always made them take their lunches because I could make something for less money than the hot lunch cost. But eventually, they voiced their opinions on the matter, which were two-fold: everyone else gets hot lunch (not true, but when you’re 7, it feels that way), and also they just wanted the experience. So I started letting them buy lunch once a week. And that was the BIGGEST deal to them…they could pour over the lunch menu every Sunday to decide which of those amazing school lunches they would BUY. Point being…I let them have the opportunity to make the choice and to not feel as though they stood out from everyone else.

Now, don’t hear what I’m not saying… I’m not saying you have to do the perfect Pinterest-worthy bento box lunch. And I’m not saying it has to be every day. I don’t know what this might look like in your home, but possibly consider letting him take his lunch once a week; in the same way my boys poured over the lunch menu, your kiddo could pour over it to determine the meal they LEAST like and let that be the sack lunch day. And then let them go to the store and just pick out what it is that they would like to take. Maybe it’s a Go-Gurt, maybe it’s a bologna sandwich…which I think is disgusting, but some kids like it! Whatever it is, I encourage you to try, to the best of your ability, to let them just feel like a normal kid…and not one who’s world has been turned upside down.