And so it begins, the yearly lunch account battle. If you’re a parent of a teen (or tween, or maybe even elementary kid), you know what I’m talking about. It’s the dance parents must now play with the wonderful lunch account system that was invented to create chaos, confusion and give our kids more control than they ever needed or can handle. It’s a power usurper, if I ever saw one (and I’ve seen lots). Long gone are the days when you handed your kid cold, hard, trackable cash for lunch (oh, and now breakfast and snack, too). Nope, not anymore. Instead, behind the veil of convenience, the powers-that-be have created systems with names like “My School Bucks” and “Nutrikids”. To properly explain such systems, they ought to have names like “Wallet Suckers” and “Your Soon-To-Be Biggest Weekly Bill”.
Here’s how it works:
- You create an online account that requires a password with at least 18 characters including 2 numbers and 5 symbols (I kid you not). You forget it every time, because you forget to write it down, every time.
- You add your children using their unique school ID numbers (I should write them down, but I don’t. Because I just love trying to get this information out of my kids every other day).
- You “deposit” money into your new online account, in convenient sums like $25, $50 and $100 (I personally think they should add a $1000 option, because…well, read on, you’ll see why).
- You give them all but your blood type in order for them to extract said funds from your bank account (where’s my damn checkbook again?). Oh, and don’t forget they surcharge you for this convenient payment method.
- The system slyly auto-checks the box for auto-refills of said account, thus creating yet another convenient way for them to suck every last cent from your ever-diminishing funds (they obviously think money DOES grow on trees).
And voila, the recipe for disaster has been created. This system is how you will forever pay for your child’s school food purchases.
And there is nothing you can do about it.
If it’s your first time creating such an account, be warned. You’ve just entered a new dimension, that, as far as I know, no parents have ever been able to get themselves out. It’s now all about “managing the beast”. Don’t ever let your guard down or think for one moment that you have any control. Because you don’t.
By creating this account- which, by the way, you have no other option, much like cell phone data plans- you have unwittingly given your kids and your school an obscene amount of power along the lines of kryptonite to Superman.
- Your kids now have the power to pick up any and all breakfast, drink, snack and lunch items (usually they choose the a la carte stuff, that keeps them hungry, but costs the most), enter their elusive school ID number, and walk away having made a purchase from your account, yet they feel none of the actual burden of any real exchange of money for product. To them, it’s like magic. To you, it’s like constantly being behind at a race. You don’t know you’re being robbed until it’s too late, and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. You’ll soon discover, way too late, that your kids are spending daily more than you’d spend on a fancy date night to Red Lobster.
- The school food options are at best, pitiful, and at worst, not actually food but something along the lines of corrugated cardboard. Thanks to Michelle (and whoever advised her of her so-called good ideas and good intentions to combat obesity), school food must follow all sorts of crazy guidelines (see here). Much like anything else the government tries to control, the guidelines are confusing and non-sensical. They can only be adequately explained by listening to your child’s growling stomach. Even though some of the blame can fall squarely on our offspring, the fact is, our kids are still hungry, even after buying a full lunch tray of so-called food. Here’s why- (A), either our kids refuse to eat the new, nasty offerings calling themselves healthy (whole wheat, applesauce, oatmeal, flaxseed cookie, anyone?), or (B), they buy quadruple lunches (because cash flows endlessly through that magic account, remember?) since all they really want (but can’t buy separately) is the corn side dish that comes with the tofu burger on whole rye flat bread. They consume 4 helpings of corn (at $2.30 a pop) and throw 4 tofu burgers in the trash. You’re poorer, they’re still hungry and the daily amount of trashed, uneaten food in any school cafeteria is enough to feed a 3rd world nation for a year.
- Our kids are endless pits. They have hollow limbs, their stomachs consume food like that’s their only job (ummm…it is, in case you paused to actually think about that one). They’re growing at an alarming rate, and expending obscene amounts of energy. So, because Michelle’s new guidelines have created food choices that can’t really be called food choices, our kids are asking to have more at home, too (do you hear the money just being sucked away?). My kid, for example, when asked what he dislikes about school so far, says, “Mom, I like everything. Except the food. I buy lunch, but I’m still hungry. Tomorrow I’m taking cheez its, a fruit snack and a sub to hold me over.” Ummm, ok son, but I guess I need to go to the grocery store. But wait, I can’t. Because I just spent my grocery allowance on your lunch account. And when he gets home? Before I have time to serve him dinner, he’s already raided the cupboards for anything that might satisfy his hunger brought on by another lunch of soy and ground chia seeds. The system created to keep my kid from consuming junk food at school is actually shepherding him straight to a full bag of chips at home.
- There’s nothing a parent can do to control the flow of cash from this ever-sucking account. Nothing I tell you. I’ve tried. I called the school and asked if I can limit their daily outtake. Or limit them to lunches only, since I usually poison my kids with cereal before they leave for school, thus negating the need to buy breakfast as soon as they walk through the school doors, but they still do. And the answers? No, no and no. Apparently, my best option is to parent from afar. This works about as well as controlling Russia. It can’t be done. I tell them to stop buying the a la carte whole wheat pizza slices. They’ve already purchased 10 of them. I tell them to stop buying breakfast. They buy drinks and rationalize that it’s not technically breakfast, right? By the time I’ve worked my way through their every loophole, it’s May.
Parents, there’s really no way around this new school lunch phenomena. Except, of course, to pack their lunches. Every. Single. Day. I honestly believe Michelle didn’t know it would happen, otherwise she wouldn’t have done it. But her healthy lunch initiative is going nowhere, fast. If the goal was to stop childhood obesity, my kid’s backpack full of snacks from home isn’t helping her case. If the goal was to create another government program to tap us all dry of any red cent, well, then she’s a genius. But in the end, my kids are still hungry, they’re still going to find a way to eat chips and candy, and I’m losing money faster than the speed of light. All we’ve done is to teach our kids a valuable lesson, way too early- how to cheat the system. And the system, my friends, in this case, is the parent.