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Lunch credit cards + kids = worries

Original post made by Elementary Parent, Palo Verde, on Sep 30, 2006

I got the letter about lunch payment changes and see all sorts of problems ahead starting Wednesday.

1. How can handing cards out to kids and then presumably collecting them afterwards speed things up? It probably makes two lines instead of one and may speed up the second.

2. How can we be sure that the kids are buying lunch only and no snacks, or not having 2 entrees or 2 drinks and once again, how can we be sure that they are buying the fruits and veggies? Also how can we be sure that they are not buying for friends who would rather have pizza than what they brought themselves? If we put a month's worth of money on a card and it goes in 2 weeks, what happens then?
Please don't ask me to check on line everyday. I would rather give them the lunch money and know that it is spent that day and let them have lunch at school when I know about it, not when they don't like what I have packed for them.

3. charges a 6% service fee for their service. This amounts in a 6% price increase to parents which seems pretty sneaky when they presumably have our money earning interest until our kids spend it and double sneaky when we were told at the beginning of the year that the price would remain at $3 per day this year when last year the price was $2.75.

4. The lunches may be healthier than before if the kids eat what is supposedly a balanced lunch from the lunch cart, but if they pick and chose only the parts they like and end up eating one bite and throwing the rest away because it tastes nasty, this can hardly be called a healthy lunch. There is already a thread here about how to get the kids to eat lunch and not play too early. This may be a means to that end, but not the one we want.

So I do have worries about this system. I would really like to see if I'm the only one.

Comments (11)

Posted by Frustrated Parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 1, 2006 at 6:17 am

We moved from Fremont to Palo Alto 2 years ago. At that time, Fremont unified school ditrict lunch was $1.75 and the food was decent. My kids ate the school lunches there, which was more or less the norm there, and I never have to worry about packing lunches. After moving to Palo Alto, other than pizza and spagatti days, my kids refuse to eat school lunches. And it was $2.75 here for so small quantity, and now $3 plus service fees. The property value is higher in Palo Alto than Fremont, but the food cost should not be this much higher!! Safeway, Wholefoods food prices are the same across the bay. There must be something wrong here.

Now I have to wake up early to cook and pack them hot lunches in thermals everyday. My kids are not picky eaters. My son is in Jordan this year and another reason he refuses to buy lunches is because waiting in line would take up almost his entire lunch time!!

Posted by FrustratedParent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 1, 2006 at 8:40 am

See what Fremont unified offers now for $2.

Web Link

Something is wrong with Palo Alto.

Posted by like the lunches
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 1, 2006 at 11:30 pm

Fremont's menu looks pretty good for $2, but there's only one selection per day. Palo Alto kids, of course, want CHOICE, and are willing to pay for it. Every day there are at least 3-4 different options provided, at slightly different prices. And it's pretty darn good-- I've sampled most of the offerings, and they're actually tasty.

The hope with the cards is that they WILL speed up the time spent in line, and process everyone faster. Think we just have to give it a chance and see.

Also, a kid buys a package for lunch that includes beverage, fruit, entree-- they don't get to pick and choose, like two fruits instead of an entree. But then, there isn't anyone sitting with them forcing them to eat it all--- so if they trade with friends, that's their choice and there's little anyone can do about it... Best thing is to educate your child about healthy choices...

Posted by elementary parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 2, 2006 at 9:59 am

I think Like the Lunches has missed the point.

Firstly, I know the package is a total lunch. I know that there are also snacks for sale (healthy?). My point, is that we are giving too much choice. If a child wants to buy two pieces of pizza, then they can buy two lunches. At present, they are limited to what money they have or one ticket. If they decide to buy two pieces of pizza, they join the line again and buy a second (or however they see round it). They can buy lunch if they don't like what parents have packed. They can choose to buy just snacks and chocolate milk.

Of course we are teaching our children about healthy eating, that is why in our house, school lunch only happens once a week (they get to choose which day from the menu), or occasionally a second time when I haven't had time to shop. However, knowing what is a healthy choice and going about it for themselves when they feel they are beating the system is a very different situation.

I read the Fremont menu and was impressed, not only by the price. It seems to me that there is a choice most days with a vegetarian option when the main menu item contains meat. Also, the sides seem to be listed as part of the menu, when I know that my children only ever take an entree and a drink, never the salad or fruit item. Telling them to do so doesn't make much of a difference. I have also been around the lunch tables at lunch time. I see all the apples, salad, nutritious sandwiches, etc. tossed in the trash cans. When asked why they don't keep them til later, most kids say that their parents tell them off when they bring home the healthy parts of their lunches uneaten so they toss them to pretend they are eating healthy.

A few years ago (less than 5), the yard duty personnel made the kids sit and eat and raise their hands to be dismissed when they had finished and their "spots" were tidy. This is not happening now and I think we are just pretending that our kids are eating healthy. They all know what eating healthy means, they just choose not to.

These debit cards for kids, although in principle may seem like a good idea, seem to broaden our children's options too much at too young an age.

Where the lunch lines should be shortened from my experience is at the middle school level where buying lunch often takes up the whole of lunch time.

Posted by Frustrated Parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 3, 2006 at 9:39 am

To be fair to PAUD, I studied the hot lunch programs of our surrounding communities.
-- The relative wealthy communities, Menlo Park/Atherton, Los Altos, went for the ultimate "Choice". The parents would order food from takeout places and pay a few months worth of hot lunches at a time. The food cost of all items add up can easily top $4 per meal and it's questionable whether the food is well balanced.
-- The more modest communities, Mountain View and Sunnyvale, choose "Sodexho" food servies. $2.50 per lunch. Web Link
I have to say, the menu, even with many choices, does not look good.

I guess Palo Alto is somewhere in the middle. Fremont lunch program is just exceptionally well run. So it's not a fair comparison.
Nonetheless, seeing so much food tossed in the blue bin (Addison has a blue bin for kids to exchange food) and most thrown-away, make me question how well we are teaching our kids.

I agree with "elementary parent" that young kids should not be given so many options. It either makes them spoiled or confused. When they can hardly understand additions and subtractions, you expect them to understand debits and credits? When many of them are just learning the difference between plants and animals, you expect them to fully understand carbs and protein, good fat and bad fat, fiber and daily vitamin intakes?

Posted by joy
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 4, 2006 at 11:45 am

My mother, who worked outside the home, packed my lunches, I ate my lunches. There was no school lunch program. So, send the kids to school with lunches you make yourselves, and no money. This is not rocket science. And lunches do not have to be hot to be nutritious.

Posted by Amy
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 4, 2006 at 12:04 pm

My daughter eats school lunches so far this her first year of middle school, but for years I have packed her lunch and my own lunch most days. I agree with Joy that it's not rocket science, nor does it have to be hot food. Both of us take leftovers, salads, sandwiches, wraps, cheese and bread and fruit, or, in a thermos, soup, pot stickers, pasta, even chicken pot pie (her favorite!). Do it the night before, or heat stuff up while you are making and eating breakfast. I'm a scattered single parent, and if I can get it done, I'm sure anyone can!

Posted by another parent
a resident of Palo Verde School
on Oct 11, 2006 at 10:04 pm

I have to say that I am really surprised by the tones of a few of the posts. They seem very hostile. The "credit card" is not a new thing in the world of hot lunches. Schools have been using them for some time. It is a good system that helps kids to get their lunches more quickly. A very important benefit, especially since schools recently have been loaded with more to teach in the span of a year, which typically translates into less time for lunch.

Now, THAT isn't fair!

Talk about making it hard to be a little one. Less recess certainly would prompt me to allow someone to have more choice in something that is traditionally enjoyed. Let them have two pieces of pizza or a second chocolate milk. I know that I would be a better learner in the afternoon if I got to have my choice rather than if I had to eat boiled broccoli for lunch everyday. Life is hard as it is.

Things you can control: A healthy start to the day. Morning snack. Healthy afternoon snack. A great dinner.

What I cannot get over, is the price. $3. That seems a bit over the top. I say, bring back the Lunch Ladies of yesteryear who used to cook up big pots of spaghetti and serve it to you right on your plate, usually with a smile. Or what about the chicken drumsticks. Those were good. What happened to that? I remember having to work in the kitchen two or three weeks every year when I hit the older grades. Everyone had to. We had to wash dishes. Help serve. I think I appreciated those lunches and ate every last bit of them, because I knew how much prep went into its creation. And, hey, let's face it, they weren't half bad.

The 6% thing is unfortunate, but, let's give the card system a chance. See how the kids react. Ask them how they like it. You might just be surprised.

Posted by wheretolive
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 16, 2006 at 9:59 am

My family is thinking about moving to Palo Alto. We intend for our children to attend the Palo Alto public school system in two years but we aren't sure which area we prefer. We like the feel of the Barron Park neighborhood but we are not sure about Barron Park and Briones elementary besides the information from Greatschools website. Any information would be very helpful regarding the school and the Barron Park neighborhood.

Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 16, 2006 at 10:32 am

You should probably tap in to the AARG discussions, and the choice program discussions. AARG is discussing changing the neighborhood school boundaries right now. And the district is also discussing adding new Alternative/Choice programs, starting with Mandarin Immersion. New Mandarin Immersion would be placed in one of our existing neighborhood schools, which would relocate about 240 kids that would have normally attended that school, to other schools. One more choice program will push about 50% of our PAUSD students out of neighborhood schools, and into a commute model. They are also considering opening a 13th elementary school, and determining where/when that should be, which could also effect what school you would be attending.

So, you probably don't need to worry extensively about where you live in Palo Alto - chances are you wouldn't wind up in the 'neighborhood' school anyway. All our schools are suppose to be equivalently good, (unless we embrace an Alternative/Choice model - which would give us disparate programs across the district) But bottom line, you probably can't manage the school you'll go to by buying in a particular neighborhood at this time, so maybe the location of the school doesn't matter too much?

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 16, 2006 at 1:41 pm


I think you will find that both Barron Park and Briones elementary schools have plenty of space for new arrivals. In fact I think it would be fair to say that if you are moving to Palo Alto, then these two neighborhood schools are the most likely to accommodate new arrivals as these tend to be the schools taking overflow students at present.

You do not say why you don't feel comfortable with these schools. We do have two choice schools and a spanish immersion (possibly a manderin immersion also) program that you can enter a lottery for. These programs can properly best be explained by the relevant person at the District Office on 25 Churchill (cross street El Camino opposite Stanford playing fields and behind Palo Alto High School).

There is a lot of discussion (particularly on this Forum) about new boundaries, but I think it would be fair to say that all the elementary schools run on the traditional lines are fairly similar.
I am sure that if you go into any of the school offices and ask for a tour you will be helped and reassured. Meeting parents at the local parks and chatting to them might be helpful too, particularly if you can find school age children at soccer games on Saturdays.

Good Luck with your househunting and hope you find the right school.

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