August 11, 2022

Lesson Taught at Miami-Dade County Public Schools: “It is ok to throw away food!” But why?

Students must take the free lunch or else?


Troubling Observations in a School Cafeteria

“What are you doing?,” asked Ms. Alvarez of students in an angry yet confused tone, as she saw them throwing away unopened milk cartons and cereal boxes, not to mention unpeeled bananas.  Ms. Alvarez added, “If you are not going to eat the food, please do not take it when you go through the lunch line!  There are children starving all over the world, and you will throw away all of this food?”  The students respectfully stood in silence looking toward the floor as Ms. Alvarez reprimanded them.  The truth is, as Ms. Alvarez would later learn, she had just further confused these well-intentioned students.

Are you confused?  Keep reading, please.

child and lunchLater that same day, as a student walked into class, she said, “Ms. Alvarez, I saw you were upset this morning in the cafeteria.  But, please, Ms. Alvarez, do not be upset at the students.”  The student further explained, “Ms. Alvarez, students are forced to take food from the lunch line.  Even when we tell the cafeteria employees that we do not want the food, they force us to take it.  We tell them that we will not eat it and that we will throw it away, but they still force us to take it!”  The student sadly admitted that she feels bad throwing away all of the food, as do many students, but that that is just the way it is.  They do not have the choice and precluded from doing the right thing.

When Ms. Alvarez brought this to the attention of the cafeteria staff the students were blamed for the waste and it was stated that it was because the students are “spoiled.”  Not true!

Knowing that there is an explanation for everything, Ms. Alvarez set out to investigate further.

What is driving this waste of food and taxpayer dollars, not to mention teaching students that throwing out food is acceptable?  In one word: money.

History of Food Programs in Schools

The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program operating in over 100,000 public and nonprofit private schools, as well as in residential child care institutions. It provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day. The program was established under the National School Lunch Act, signed by President Harry Truman in 1946.

In 1975, the School Breakfast Program was created to further ensure that children were having their nutritional needs met.

In 1998, Congress expanded the National School Lunch Program to include reimbursement for snacks served to children in afterschool educational and enrichment programs for children through 18 years of age.

Stated Objective of the School Programs in Schools

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “School districts and independent schools that choose to take part in the lunch program get cash subsidies and USDA foods from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for each meal they serve.  But, in order for these schools to receive the cash subsidies, they must serve lunches that meet Federal requirements, and they must offer free or reduced price lunches to eligible children. School food authorities can also be reimbursed for snacks served to children through age 18 in afterschool educational or enrichment programs.” These subsidies are received irrespective of whether or not the student actually consumes the food.

Cost To Taxpayers

The cost to taxpayers to cover these food programs is in the billions of dollars and growing, especially under Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” program. The National School Lunch Program cost $11.1 billion in FY 2011. By comparison, the lunch program’s total cost in 1947 was $70 million; in 1950, $119.7 million; in 1960, $225.8 million; in 1970, $565.5 million; in 1980, $3.2 billion; in 1990, $3.7 billion; and in 2000, $6.1 billion.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools Food Program

School lunches are provided to millions of public school students including those in the Miami-Dade public school district, the fifth largest in the nation.

According to the Miami-Dade school lunch program website, “Nutrition is among the many factors that shape the lives of children. Part of the mission of the Department of Food and Nutrition is ‘to provide nutritious, appetizing foods that will contribute to the growth and good health of children.’ Regulated by the National School Lunch Act, students are permitted the opportunity of selecting 3 of the 5 offered components of the meal. The idea of “3 is good, 4 is better, 5 is best” is promoted to assure greater variety and nutrient intake. Menu items are based on student responses to food preference surveys and actual student involvement with taste-testing. Alternates are offered throughout the meal periods to provide choices.” [Emphasis added]

Policy Intention versus Policy Results


Milton Friedman once said, “One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.” 

Norman S. Edelcup Sunny Isles Beach K-8 school serves as an example of what happens when children are exposed to “the idea of 3 is good, 4 is better, 5 is best” ideology. Because students are forced to take the entire meal, as served, they either take it all or nothing at all.  Consequently, even when students do not want to take, say a carton of milk, they must.  So what do they do?  They throw away what they do not want to eat.

The stated policy intention of the above-mentioned programs are not being met.  That is, the objective of the lunch program which is to provide nutritious, appetizing foods that will contribute to the growth and good health of children is not being met.

Instead, there are many negative and unintended consequences which makes one question whether these food programs are  even necessary; after all, they are not meeting their stated objectives!

Unintended Negative Consequences (not listed in order of importance; yet they are all equally important)

(1)  Tons of food is wasted every year.

(2) Landfills are filled with oceans of packaging that would have not otherwise been disposed of if students were not forced to take food they will not eat.

(3) Billions of taxpayer dollars are being wasted.  If parents were required to pay fewer taxes, they would have more in their wallets to feed their children what they would actually eat!

(4) Students are being placed in a position where they are forced to do something that is morally and ethically wrong – waste food against their wishes.

(5) The quality of the cafeteria food remains unappetizing to students.  Food companies have no incentive to make food appetizing for the simple reason that they are guaranteed sales.  Alas, this is “the” reason why cafeteria food has always been so “gross,” to use the words of the above-motioned middle school student who is appalled with the school’s cafeteria policy on more than one level.

(6) Students are being taught contradictory lessons. In the cafeteria they are taught to be polluters and in the classroom they are taught that the world’s environmental problems are caused by mankind!

(7) As has become customary, the unstated objective is that it is all about money.  In this case, subsidies for schools and profits for food companies.  The school is paid subsidies based upon the number of items served, regardless of whether the food is eaten.  The food companies “earn” a guaranteed profit based upon the number of items served, regardless of whether the food is eaten.

“Our Dream in Green” Project and Challenge for Students  

Hypocritical, or perhaps laughable?

Students at Sunny Isles receive contradictory ‘green’ environmental lessons everyday.  In the classroom they are taught to conserve and not waste, yet in the cafeteria they learn, through a “hands-on” approach, that it is okay to waste food.

What makes this so interesting is that Miami-Dade County Public Schools encourages:

[P]ublic, private, and charter schools participate in the Green Schools Challenge (GSC). The GSC involves students, teachers and school staff in designing and implementing environmental and energy solutions at their school. Students will learn about environmental sustainability and build leadership skills by getting involved in real world, no-cost solutions, and organizing environmental campaigns and Eco-Summits.  The GSC provides clear guidelines, motivating incentives, and strong support to help schools reduce their carbon footprint, save energy and save money. Your schools’ cost free participation in the program will deepen the impact the youth play in transitioning towards a more sustainable society.

Click here to learn more about the Our Dream in Green


There has to be a better way. Clearly, these food programs are not meeting the objective of providing students with the required stated nutritional dietary needs. Policy changes that have been recommended include:

(1) End the waste of food and the contribution to the world’s landfills.

(2) Cut taxes, as Governor Scott is proposing, so that parents are in a better position to feed their children at home, rather than have a false sense of belief that the “school” is doing it for them.

(3) Stop morally bankrupting students by teaching them that it is fine to waste food.

(4) If food will be provided in schools, let children have the freedom of choice.  This will drive food companies to compete to provide the most appetizing meals, and rather than food ending in the dump, it will end up where it really will serve a purpose:  in the developing bodies of this Nation’s children.   Besides, it does not make sense to put public school students into a ‘one lunch fits all model’.

(5) Cafeteria staff should monitor what foods are discarded and change district policy to either allow unused food to go to a local charity, something which is currently forbidden, or change the menu to reflect what students want, not what National School Lunch Act regulations demand.

(6) Policies that have unintended and negative consequences need to be revisited.  If student nutrition is the goal, rather than the receipt of financial subsidies, school officials would be more concerned in making food appetizing so that students are the ones reaping the benefits.

The picture (above right) in this column is a very small sampling of untouched items taken out of just one trash can which students did not eat.

This waste makes it clear that the National School Lunch Program has failed to meet its stated objective.  This should make teachers, administrators and parents re-think whether the billions of taxpayer dollars spent annually towards these programs really go to benefit students or out-of-control government programs and corporations with a captive clientele – the public school student.