School Lunch Issues

Updated on December 03, 2011
M.L. asks from Spokane, WA
20 answers

I am so fed up with my son's school lunch program! We send him with homemade lunch a lot, but sometimes I just don't have time or not feeling well to make lunch (having a rough pregnancy), so I send him with lunch money. I give him $2 for lunch, and his lunch is only $1.70. I put a special request on his lunch chart to NOT give him breakfast, and to NOT let him get special snacks. But, they NEVER give him change back.. and they keep calling me with an automated message telling me I owe more freaking money for lunch. He should have an excess of money on his account, not a negative balance. I am beyond frustrated. I did have it online with my credit card, but then they just kept taking more and more money so I removed my card from the account. I am going to call the school tomorrow, but seriously, anyone else having this issue? How can I resolve it if it keeps happening? I already know the answer is to make him lunch every day, but that is really rough for me right now, and that won't stop them from giving him snacks even if he does not have money with him, they will just 'put it on is tab'. I talk to my son about this all the time, but he is 5, he still doesn't totally understand that some things cost extra.

What can I do next?

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So What Happened?

I have done all your suggestions. I have set limits on the online account, it didn't work so I closed the account totally which is supposed to put stops on his tab, I have put the exact amount in the envelope with notes to the lunch staff, I tried the prepay option online where I paid in advance and they still overcharge me every time. Lately, I have been giving him just $2 for a $1.70 meal b/c I ran out of change, he SHOULD be getting change back, but is racking up a negative balance instead. I could write a monthly or weekly check, and I HAVE done that, but they still let him go over the daily allotment of the basic meal. The PROBLEM is they let him take extra food and 'put it on his tab', even when I have requested multiple times they not allow this. I know he isn't giving away or losing change. He loves change and collects it anywhere he can find it. I'm seriously starting to feel like this is some sort of scam.

Featured Answers


answers from Phoenix on

Both of my kids get hot lunch at school. The way we don't run into this is I get $100 worth of $1 bills and rolls of quarters and I put $2.25 in a zip baggie EVERY DAY for lunch for each kid. That way, they only have enough to buy lunch and nothing else and there is no "account" for them to just swipe it out. And I don't have to stress about them getting change. So maybe you can do the same thing?

4 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Yep..I have had these same frustrating issues. Now we pack everyday..but I am not pregnant and all mine are in school so some time and energy is freed up. I feel for you!!

How about you carve out some extra moments in a day to pre package in baggies only $1.70. Then every day he takes only 1 baggie. He will never have too much or too little.

Just an idea. A little more work but it might solve it for you.

Hope the pregnancy gets better!!

Good luck and best wishes!!

1 mom found this helpful

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answers from Los Angeles on

My nephew is 10, in 5th grade, and is constantly running out of credit, he buys breakfasts and lunches for friends he feels sorry for. My sister has asked the cafeteria supervisor to not let him...but it's "his" money and they can't refuse if he wants to use it. He still doesn't understand, sigh, he's just someone who cares ; )

Send your son with $1.70 every day, I know, a pain, but get rolls of quarters and dimes and use a daily envelope. Better to eliminate the problem on your own than get someone else to take responsibility.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Are you sure the money makes it there every time? Maybe it doesn't and you were extended credit? Can you pay in cash at the office?

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Tampa on

I just don't deal with cash personally. I use the meal prepay option and just load money onto my son's account. That way, any extra is just used on a future lunch and I don't have to worry. I monitor his account so that I see only one lunch and one breakfast. Only one time did I have a problem. He got charged twice for one lunch. I just emailed a screenshot of his account showing the double charge and they didn't charge him for the next lunch. No biggie...

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Anchorage on

Go in and talk to them personally.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Do you know if he is maybe getting the change and just disposes of the change or giving it away? My son is 5 and he doesn't understand money. I can see him getting the change and giving it away, throwing it away, or shoving it somewhere and forgetting about it. Our school requires us to send in kindergartners money in a marked envelope every day and put it in their folder. The solution would be to give him exactly $1.70 in an envelope.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

In our district this has absolutely nothing to do with the school, but with the food services which is responsible for all 12 of the schools. Make sure that you're talking to the right person and obtain a copy of their policy in writing.

You should also notify them in writing that your son is not allowed to charge anything and you want to close your account. Tell them your son will be paying at the time of purchase and send in the exact amount in a sealed envelope with instructions written on the outside.

Good luck.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

Close the online accounts, like you said you have done. By no means should they have a credit card number on file for you. Go in person to the cafeteria manager. Get it in writing that your son does NOT have your permission to run a tab or purchase anything on credit. I would seriously have someone sign a note to that effect. Then go to the bank and stock up on the exact change to give him 1.70 exactly in a baggie or envelope only on the days you need to. If they still let him charge up more, you shouldn't be liable with documentation that your child is not allowed to buy on credit.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Denver on

Is there a menu printed online somewhere? Or are there choices that are available all the time that you'd like him to choose? Maybe you could set up a pretend lunch line in your house with similar things that he encounters in the school line (a sandwich, an apple, cookies, snacks, breakfast items, whatever they offer) and have him pretend to go through the line. Draw them if you can't provide a real example. Role play. When he picks up the expensive candy bar and the bag of chips, buzz a buzzer (real or pretend) and when he picks up the apple and the cheese stick (or whatever you intend for him to eat) ring a bell or cheer. Then have him be the one in charge and you go through the line and pick bad things and good things (or expensive things and reasonable things). some kids just need real life examples.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Columbus on

Probably the best solution is to meet with the principal, the person in charge of the school cafeteria, and the director of food services for the district. Tell them of how frustrating it is not to be able to control how much money is being spent on lunch because he's allowed to run up a tab. We don't have that ability at our school. Also, look up any school board policy regarding lunch accounts. Tell them that the cafeteria staff has been ignoring your special requests, and that you're willing to bring your issues up with the school board at their next meeting. Most schoools have "wellness policies" and are cutting down on snacks and pop being served in the cafeteria. See if your school has one and if the free availability of snacks conflicts with their wellness policy.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Portland on

If your schools' cafeteria is anything like the ones I'm familiar with they do not have the ability to give your son 30 cents in change. Most parents pay several dollars for several lunches. They just do not give change.

I don't know but I would talk with the cafeteria manager, if she's the one who takes money and ask how you can make this work. It's such a waste of energy trying to sort it out and getting upset without talking directly to the one in charge.

If you don't want him to have breakfast or snacks then you need to teach him to not get them. At 5 he's probably supervised by his teacher or an aid while in the cafeteria. Tell them that he's not to get bf or snacks. It's students serving up the food. They aren't able to distinguish between who does and who doesn't.

Direct communication is the way to resolve this issue. Find out what the cafeteria can and can't do and change the way you handle it to fit their system.

My granddaughter eats the cafeteria lunch part of the time. Her folks send $20 to school which is put on a card. She swipes the card when she enters the line to pick up food. A person does not handle money. The students dish out the food. There is one cafeteria worked in the kitchen with them supervising. I don't think that they even take cash. The student has to go into the cafeteria before school and put money on their account.

I suggest you're getting the messages, automatically, computer generated because he has no money on his account.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Cleveland on

we can set a limit at when we want to get a reminder call that the balance is low. It's possible that yours is set at a higher limit than you realized. That doesn't make sense let me try again the long version this time. We were accidentally credited $80 for someone elses kid, they had set their limit at a certain amount, We caught the mistake and the money was taken out of our account and back to the right person, but we never changed the reminder limit, so when we sent in $10 we kept getting notices that our balance was low.

Maybe ask about that.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

No, the answer is to voice your frustration with the school because the lunchroom staff can't charge him accordingly. Do you get a record of how many lunches he had vs what your account balance is? Is there anything you can do to put a stop on his tab? That would anger me so much. 1) they're giving a child snacks you do not want and 2) obligating you to pay for extra food. I would go in and talk to them and the principal. That's not right.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Houston on

Is there a way you can check his "charges" online? Our school works with Paypams and I can go online to see what my kids are spending on lunch, which is very informative especially with my high schooler. Also, have you told your son that he's not suppose to get a cookie, ice cream, whatever else is extra? I had to do that with my son. I don't think he understood that those things were not included in the regular lunch. And, our school doesn't give change. If I send $2 the extra $0.75 goes on his account.

I'm not sure the principal is the person I'd talk to about your concerns. Get the number for the Food Services department and talk to them.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Houston on

I know your frustration!! I have had similar problems with my son. I finally had to talk to the assistant principal who gave explicit instructions to the lunchroom manager to not allow my son to buy lunch.

The reason they allow a "tab" is because if a child later qualifies for reduced or free lunch, they will forgive the tab. (At least this is how it was explained to me). Also the lunch room staff is completely separate form the rest of the school, so the lunchroom manager does not answer to the principal, they are a separate entity.

You may want to try contacting the lunch room manager, and also request an itemized statement which will show you how much was charges on each date. I had to do this myself. You may also want talk to his teacher, and make sure the teachers in the lunch room know that he should not be buying lunch.

Personally I think they are giving this children way to much responsibility with this lunch money business and they are not mature enough to handle it. I know several other moms that have also had similar issues.

I really hope it works out for you!



answers from Oklahoma City on

I tried to think of an answer other that go to the school at lunch time and visit with the person taking the money but that may not be a viable option if you have other kids at home. That is what I do.

Is he overweight? Is that why he can't have other stuff on his tray? In our schools they have what they have, it's one or two different entrees, they get only one or a sandwich, the sides or a salad, then some sort of apple or orange, etc...and milk and juice. It's a lot of food and it all one price. There are no extra's.

If they charge for each little thing maybe that is why it is adding up, if he's hungry after eating the $1.70 amount of food should he just go hungry? I would want my child to have enough to eat. If he is still hungry he should get to eat enough right? I don't get that part. Maybe if you could word it differently.



answers from Austin on

Wow! I can't believe that, that's terrible! It used to be that we'd take our dollar & pay the lunch lady directly when we got to the tray section in line. Wow, how times have changed! What I'd suggest is to first take it to the principal, in person. Take the bill that shows the charges w/you so you can have proof & let them know of all the messages you've rec'd & let them know of the numerous phone calls & notes that go unnoticed as well. If you can't get anywhere w/the principal, take it to the school board. If you still can't get any satisfaction, threaten to take it to the news or just take it to the news w/o warning, a lot of times, that resolves the issue. If you have to, after doing all this w/still nothing done, take it to court. Sometimes, unfortunately, you hafta do drastic measures to get something done but something HAS to be done to stop this nonsense. Good luck!!



answers from Charlotte on

Do they sell a la carte? I have a feeling that he isn't buying a 'set' lunch, but is picking out what he wants. You should go into the lunchroom and talk to the lunch ladies about HOW lunch works. It's not like it was when we were young, to be honest. Now things work differently. My older son was paying almost $5 for lunch the first week we were at his school, so I went to talk to them. They explained how it worked, and I talked to my son about it. He is not 5, and can understand what to do, and I told him straight out that if he "forgot" and didn't buy the set lunch, he would not get money to make up for it from me and would have to fix his own lunch at home to take with him until the beginning of the next month.

Since your child is so young, I think that I would try to put his lunch together at night and forget about him buying lunch at school. I know they are trying to help by letting him "owe" money, but unless you are able to get him to understand how to buy within your budget, I think you will probably continue to be frustrated.

Good luck!



answers from Las Vegas on

Is it possible your son doesn't want the turkey sandwich you sent him with, so he gets in line to purchase a lunch on chalupa day? Sounds like a plan to me if I were a kid.

I remember when i was a kid in school (a really long time ago), you could purchase lunch tickets in advance. Then he could just use a ticket instead of money. Do they do anything like this? Call the school and ask to review the account.

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