Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that the DC public schools will now be serving dinner in 99 of its 123 public schools.  That makes three square meals a day that the public schools will be providing kids.  What’s next?  Perhaps the schools should start offering children housing, clothing, trips to Disneyland.  What’s left for parents to do?  

Officials describe the dinner initiative as having three goals: hedging against childhood hunger, reducing alarming rates of obesity and drawing more students to after-school programs, where extra academic help is available. It is also part of a broader effort, mandated by recent D.C. Council legislation, to upgrade the quality and nutritional value of school food with fresh, locally grown ingredients.

Until this year, most after-school fare was a snack of juice and a muffin or bagel. But for children who spend up to 10 1/2 hours at school – from early care at 8 a.m. to the end of after-care at 6:30, it wasn’t enough. Officials started hearing from principals and teachers that not only were many kids hungry for the last few hours of a long day, some of them weren’t eating much at home. 

Isn’t the Post missing a bigger question here?  If you’re sending your kid to school for 10 ½ hours a day…why in the heck are you not packing them some food?  Isn’t feeding your kid the most basic of parental responsibilities?

The Post addresses this, sort of, by repeating the popular (and totally inaccurate) data that says people just can’t afford to provide their kids food: “A Gallup poll conducted for the Food Research Action Center, a nonprofit group that works to widen access to healthy food in schools, found that at least once between 2008 and 2009, 40 percent of D.C. households with children did not have enough money to buy food.”

While one may look at this Gallup poll as proof of widespread, chronic hunger in the District, the real data is much less dramatic.  The Gallup questionnaire actually asked “Have there been times in the past twelve months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed.”

Well, heck yeah, if you’re poor, you probably have had trouble putting food on the table. That’s one of the tough things about being poor. 

These episodic moments of food shortages for the poor is what many in the anti-hunger community call “food insecurity” and the term makes the problem seem much bigger than it actually is.  But this term does not mean constant hunger or a complete and consistent lack of food.  It simply means that there have been episodes where money was short and it was tough to put a meal on the table.  It is understandable that poor households might sometimes have difficulty providing food for their families but that hardly constitutes “starving” or chronic hunger and while it’s unfortunate that some children may have to endure a hungry night or two, it’s hardly a reason to initiation a $5.7 million feeding program in DC. 

For heaven’s sake, send that money to Haiti where kids really are hungry!

But secondly, I don’t actually believe that the nation’s poor are unable to provide their children with a simple meal.  Many of this nation’s poor are on food stamps (in addition to receiving housing assistance and other government services).  And while some complain that food stamps only offer a small per-month allowance for food, the program is intended to supplement, not provide entirely for a family’s food needs.  And food stamps cover a wide variety of basic food which is cheap and nutritious–bread, peanut butter, many fresh, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables, rice, beans and even protein like chicken and ground beef are items covered by food stamps. 

The United States also has a robust charity and food banking system that can help people get through these difficult times.   There are a great many services already out there for families.  What we need more of isn’t government programs; we need a little more parental involvement.

Parents, not schools, should be feeding their children and our government should encourage them to do so.  This constant encroachment of the government, however well intended, only makes parents more and more willing to defer these critical responsibilities…which in turn make children more reliant on state-provided services.

Let’s face it people, it’s time to start parenting again.  Packing a lunch (and perhaps a light dinner) is a good way to start.