US schools banning meal and other deliveries to students

NEW YORK • Cannot stomach the thought of eating another routine meal?

Students in schools across the United States thought they had found a way around cafeteria food and brown-bag lunches - just tap delivery services such as DoorDash, Grubhub or Uber Eats.

Now, citing security and nuisance concerns, schools from California to Delaware are cracking down.

"The other day, a student asked me if he could get food delivered and I said: 'No,'" said science teacher Leslie Blaha at Montgomery Blair High School.

"If they get it delivered to the school, the main office sends it back. We can't have food coming from an unknown source that we don't know what's in it."

The fight over lunch deliveries may seem minor, but the easy availability of fast food is no joke to nutritionists.

Fast-food meals often contain more salt and usually come with sugared drinks. That’s why we have regulations on school lunches to help keep kids healthy. 

MS SARAH REINHARDT, food systems and health analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists

Ms Sarah Reinhardt, food systems and health analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said allowing students to order restaurant food means "there is no one looking out for their nutritional needs".

"Fast-food meals often contain more salt and usually come with sugared drinks," she said. "That's why we have regulations on school lunches to help keep kids healthy."

Some districts, however, had more prosaic reasons for banning the deliveries.

Delivery drivers in Sacramento had to register at the front office, creating havoc. Some parents in Wilmington, Delaware, would occasionally bring food they had prepared at home for their children, until they discovered the restaurant delivery services.

At Granite Bay High School near Sacramento, California, a ban on all deliveries to students - not just food but also homework, backpacks and clothing - caused some grumbling, but mostly among parents.

"The administration got tired of being errand-runners for parents who were delivering pretty much everything to their students and expecting the delivery would make it to Jimmy or Susie in their classrooms," Mr Karl Grubaugh, a teacher and faculty adviser to the school newspaper, said.

Now, students must retrieve any items delivered by parents from a table outside the front office.

Former US first lady Michelle Obama made school-lunch nutrition a policy priority during her time in the White House.

The Obama administration issued strict guidelines designed to make meals healthy as well as appealing to kids. Sample menus replaced hot dogs with whole wheat spaghetti, pizza sticks with chef salads and whole milk with skim.

The Trump administration has rolled back some of the standards, specifically those that require the use of whole grains, lower sodium foods and non-fat flavoured milk.

But Ms Reinhardt cited a 2015 study in medical journal Childhood Obesity showing that under the Obama-era rules, which took effect in 2012, students consumed more fruit and threw away less of the entrees and vegetables.

She worries that the delivery boom will make it more difficult for school officials to influence kids' dietary choices.

"What happens if we have no way to reach kids with dietary guidelines?" she said. "If kids aren't eating meals at schools, the buck stops there."

Another downside to delivered lunches, some people note, is the stigma it places on students who rely on school meals for their nutrition and do not have the means to tap Uber Eats for meals on the side.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 12, 2019, with the headline 'US schools banning meal and other deliveries to students'. Print Edition | Subscribe