All parents – and grandparents — preparing for the next school year should read “A school lunch that’s hard to swallow” in Wednesday’s Northern Virginia Daily, or online at The story highlights an issue that some parents may not be aware of – when a student’s lunch account hits a certain negative balance, he or she will receive a less expensive alternative, such as a cheese sandwich, fruit and milk.

Picture yourself in an elementary school cafeteria. You have a cheese sandwich and fruit on your tray. Your classmates sitting at your table have chicken nuggets, baked beans, corn and applesauce on theirs. How would you feel, and what do you say when they start asking you why your lunch is so different?

The schools are not providing the alternative lunch to be mean. Parents are receiving notices when the accounts are overdrawn. The alternative lunch is only being served when the parents fail to respond.

One principal has set up an account for children who do not have lunch money, but she noted in our news story, “The policy’s broken, because it’s never the kids’ fault.”

So, how can this be fixed?

There are free and reduced lunches available through a federal program. Are there parents who are eligible for those, but are not applying?

Do other parents or parent-school organizations need to step in to raise funds?

Do the teachers who have to deal with hungry or upset, teary-eyed students who return to their classes after an alternative lunch have to dig into their wallets – as they often do for so many other needs in their classrooms – to pay for that child’s next lunch?

Perhaps the schools should just toss the policy and continue to provide regular meals for those children who have delinquent accounts. Instead of punishing the child, send a bill to the parents. After all, they are already being charged for the alternative lunch.