Death to the brown bags: school lunches vs. homemade, a fight to the finish

Is the concept of students bringing lunch from home dying a hideous death -- just like live social interaction and Gilbert Gottfried's career? At Little Village Academy on Chicago's west side, students are not allowed to bring lunches from home unless they have a medical excuse, so they have two choices: eat what the school serves, or eat...well, you know the rest.

This school's rule is sparking a flavorful debate about infringement of parents' rights, whether or not a Coke and flaming hot chips are a viable lunch option, and how crappy school lunches really are these days. In the interest of ongoing culinary and philosophical debate, we've created a list of three pros and three cons each about brown bag versus plastic lunch plates, and no tater tots will be left behind.

Homemade lunch pros:

3. Endless possibilities.

If your kid wants a pineapple/anchovy/jalapeno wrap with a side of marinara sauce and a handful of beef jerky for lunch, then you can throw all this in a Ziploc bag and guarantee your offspring will have a great lunch...with no chance in hell of trading anything for a Nutty Bar.

2. The badass lunch box to show off. You bought the pink plastic She-Ra Princess of Power lunch box for two dollars on eBay, and it even came with the matching Thermos. And free shipping. Living vicariously through your kid: priceless.

1. Super Mommy/Daddy props. Nothing tells the other kids' parents that you are better than they are than sending your precious spawn off to school with a designer bento box filled with bits of jicama artfully cut into the shapes of the fifty states and Puerto Rico.

Homemade lunch cons:

3. Getting up is hard to do.

Waking your ass up in the a.m. to slap together your child's mid-day meal is more than your Ambien-laced brain should have to process, so letting the fruit of your loins eat barbecued chips for lunch seems like a much better way to show you really care.

2. Whittling down the shopping list. Packing your grocery cart with diet lychee-flavored vitamin water and chocolate-covered cherry Yoplait light yogurt takes enough time away from your yoga classes and Judge Judy; forget grabbing grape jelly and goldfish crackers.Why not let the nanny relax and just hand your shortie a Visa check card for his afternoon repast?

1. Kids don't like healthy food.

Okay, maybe some kids do like a sack full of carrot sticks and non-fat ranch dressing and a to-go packet of Crystal Light for their triple-filtered bottled water; parents who don't live in Boulder are probably aware that their little sperm blossoms want to mainline Hostess cupcakes and Dr. Pepper every single day of their lives, and they won't stop until they are mainlining congealed soft-shell tacos with Fire sauce and cheap beer in college. Let 'em eat the school lunch. At least there's a chance that they'll suck up some corn with that pool of melted margarine next to the rectangular slab of ersatz pizza.

School lunch pros:

3. Welfare begins at home. You are broke, so saving up the pennies on the EBT card and packing your child a baggie of WIC-approved dry cereal and a slightly dented can of Vienna sausages is great for rubbing your two dimes together for warmth. Except at the first of the month, because the pickle loaf and white bread sandwich with extra mayo is a treat for your pint-sized tax deductions. There's no shame in being poor, except when you are a kid and the other kids make fun of you, so sign the free-lunch paperwork, let them eat the school lunch every day, and hope none of the other kids find out, because being underprivileged and unpopular in school is just not a gift to give your kids wrapped up in a dollar-store Christmas bow.

2. Sloth should not be one of the seven deadlies. Shirking parental involvement is not limited to skipping school plays and parent-teacher conferences. As American parents, you should maintain the right and privilege to ignore the needs of your kids as you see fit. You don't wanna know what your kids are eating any more than you wanna know who they're socializing with or how many cigarettes they've smoked at the bus stop. Whether they're eating Uncrustables and scurvy-promoting piles of tater tots or sparking a skunk-laced blunt at recess, you're better off staying out of it for now. Wait till your kids are adults to interfere with their live; it'll be way more productive then.

1. You ate school lunches when you were a kid, and you turned out fine. School lunches are a time-honored tradition in our culture, just like getting loaded on raspberry vodka at the prom and losing your virginity in the back of a van at a Metallica concert. These trays represent a rite of passage for students, and to deprive them of those little squares of canned pears and red Jell-O would be robbing them of an important cultural milestone.

School lunch cons:

3. Feeding Big Brother's appetite for control.

The government already forces you to pay taxes, buy insurance and refrain from carrying switchblade knives. Now this? The Orwellian powers that be in our federal and state governments have trickled down their influence right into our public schools, and if we start letting the Man tell us we have to feed our kids hoagies with a tossed salad and fruit cup every Thursday then we might as well sit idly by and let them take sex education, art and music classes away, too.

2. Quantity without quality. A lot of things improve with time -- like wine, exercise equipment and Rob Lowe. School lunches have not improved since the 1970s, and aside from the fact that they are served mostly hot and can be filling if the squab actually eat them, the mass-produced trays of squishy French fries and unconscionably ketchup-flavored sloppy joes are just about as appetizing as licking the inside of a KFC dumpster on a hot day.

1. Your kids are unique--just like everybody else's.

Your kids aren't Highlands Ranch cookie-cutter Aeropostale-wearing suburb brats. Your kids are special, and their creativity and individual personalities must be nurtured and respected. They should not have to be like all the other kids and eat the same glop of overcooked spaghetti served to those Aurora thuglettes, or the salads tossed for the Boulderite granola hippie larvae. Your children are downtown Denver urban sophisticates, and feeding them microbiotic brown-rice broth and spinach-spearmint tofu tartlets will prepare them for an adult life of being exactly like you.

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