Why My Son No Longer Eats School Lunch


school lunch

I remember back when I was in elementary school, being rushed through the lunch line to make my selection and keep moving. The ladies behind the counter wearing their hairnets and rubber gloves were not the most pleasant to deal with. To a youngin’ like me, I just figured they were cranky from being in the hot kitchen all day.

Fast forward more than 30 years, and I found myself visiting my son at his elementary school for lunch. He proudly grabbed his lunch tag from his classroom cubby and followed the leader to the lunchroom. He lined up for a choice of a turkey meatball sub or mandarin chicken and rice. He was so excited it was meatball sub day! These things are a big deal when you’re 6. When he noticed they were out of the sub, he shot me a disappointed look. I told him to ask the lady to see if there were more in the back. He immediately had a look of fear on his face. He told me he’s not allowed to ask for things and must take what is there. I said that’s ridiculous; they just ran out and probably have more in the back, right?

I glanced over to the other side of the cafeteria, as there are two lines for kids. I noticed they had subs on that side and pointed in that direction. He again told me he could not get out of this line and would get in trouble if he went over there. What?!? Why are there so many rules at lunch? The kid is hungry, and isn’t the purpose of having a menu so you can have options? How many kids go hungry and don’t eat because they are afraid to ask for the lunch they want?

I thought maybe he was exaggerating, so I asked the lunch lady if she had anymore meatball subs. She quickly put me in my place exactly as my son described. For a second, I felt like I was in that Seinfeld episode with the gruff Soup Nazi yelling at me, “No sub for you!” No wonder he comes home after school starving some days even though I know he would have eaten what was offered on the menu that day.

Still in shock, we move a few steps forward to pick a side item. My son touched the little bowl of peaches but then changed his mind and reached for the peas. Wrong move! The lunch lady immediately snapped at him to take the first thing he touched and to keep his hands off the others. I was standing right there, and that still had no impact on her approach with these kids. I get the whole germ thing and kids’ hands are not the cleanest, but he didn’t touch the actual food. His thumb barely even grazed the bowl, but I guess that was close enough. So, there we were, with a side of unwanted peaches on his lonely tray.

If I didn’t see this in person myself, I may not have believed it. Why does it have to be this way? We are talking about kids as young as 5 just trying to get a lunch they like and will actually eat. It’s hard enough sometimes to get kids to eat! So please, give them what they ask for if it’s available.

Now when my son sees something on the school menu he will eat and wants for lunch that day, I am hesitant to send him back into the lunch line. I’ve started packing his lunch, so he doesn’t have to interact with the mean lunch ladies.

I realize it’s not the most glamorous job in the world, but the kids shouldn’t have to suffer or be punished for wanting to eat. Lighten up, lunch ladies.

Has anyone else had this experience with your school’s lunch workers?

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Kerry Schicker
Boy mom. Household CEO. Corporate leader. Outdoor lover. Social seeker. Sun worshipper. Curious traveler. Champagne enthusiast. These words describe me, Kerry Schicker, and contributor for Jacksonville Moms Blog. I first approached founders Vicky and Megan after a heartbreaking miscarriage a few years ago. I had a very unpleasant experience with my OB at the time and I needed to get it off my chest so I wrote an anonymous blog that resonated with some of our readers. I have since written dozens of blogs about mostly motherhood. I have a passion for writing. My 20-year career has grown through some form of writing including TV news reporting and producing, magazine publishing, public relations, advertising, marketing, blogging and my current day job doing HR and employee communications for a Fortune 300 FinTech company. I am thankful that Jacksonville has such a supportive community for moms like me, and I can't imagine raising my two boys anywhere else.


  1. My son had the same experience but just two times after that I have been preparing his lunch for 3 years now, actually he is so afraid of the cafeteria employees that he won’t even ask for my money back like $35.

    • He wouldn’t b e able to ask for your thirty five dollars from his account anyway. You would have to fill out a form to give to the lunch lady so she can forward it to the head office. Lunch ladies are not allowed to withdraw funds from a lunch account.

  2. This is so unfortunate. It shouldn’t be this way. If you don’t like your job in the cafeteria then find a new one. I’m sorry you had to expertience this as well.

  3. Email the principal, no one should be treated that way, especially kids. I use to be a school teacher in public schools and the only people who can maybe make a difference are the parents. If they complain things will change. If it doesn’t change after you email the principal email the county. The school my son is at is much better then the school I taught at.

  4. Our Elementary school must be the exception. We have thoroughly pleasant lunch-ladies. They know most of our 400+ students by name, go out of their way to be helpful, and even know the regular parents by name. Ms Ross leads our cafeteria staff and is always friendly and very kind; the kids just love her. Our 7yo, who packs every single day to avoid the tasteless meals, goes through the lunch line on Fridays to get ice-cream and say hello. I’m appalled your son had to experience such treatment. I would contact your schools cafeteria contractor. That is NOT acceptable.

  5. I really hope you take this to the top. The board of education needs to know this. YOU Have to save the other children from this trauma inducing behavior. Please don’tlet her continue. Get it on video if you have to. What school is this? This is scary. And worrisome.

  6. I haven’t noticed the employees, the line is usually deserted when I’ve walked through. But the food quality is subpar at best. We pack our own lunches so I know if he eats or not. They are not allowed to throw away their leftovers so I can see if lunch went untouched and understand why he might be extra cranky that afternoon.

  7. Our lunch ladies are equally grouchy with just as many rules. Everyone is afraid of them. My son packed his lunch for 4 years working up the nerve to interact with them. Our district is a free lunch district too, but a lot of the kids don’t get it out of fear! Even if they pack their lunch, they are afraid to ask for help to open a container or get a milk. It’s too bad they feel they have to be so strict, especially with the little ones.


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