Thursday, April 30, 2009

Life is Not Fare

Ala Carte?  Should be more like ALL-a-Carte!

In our school district, when the kids move into Junior High School in seventh grade, the cost of a hot lunch increases from $2.05 to $2.25.  I understand that this is very inexpensive compared to the costs some parents pay, and I truly appreciate that our schools are able to offer a well-balanced healthy meal at a minimal charge.  My husband and I have historically deposited $50 into Junior High lunch accounts and $40 into elementary school lunch accounts on a rotation with the kids' biological mom.  When funds get low, we alternate replenishing with the amounts listed above.

At the start of Junior High that the kids are introduced to the Ala-Carte food line.  They can purchase items like juice, snacks, ice cream bars, etc... in addition to - or in place of - their regular lunch.

When my oldest step-son started Junior High over two years ago, we found he was really enjoying the Ala-Carte privilege.  In fact, we were oblivious to how much he was spending until we started to notice the frequency at which we had to replenish funds in his lunch account; he was reaching the zero balance far more often than his siblings.  At that point, I found out we could go online and view his lunch account activity to see what he was buying.

I learned a few things about my step-son at that time.  Until viewing his lunch account, I had no idea about his love for Oatmeal Cream Pies.  I also had no idea that he was suffering from mild retardation.  Ok, so things had gotten out of hand a bit, and my husband and I decided to have a talk with the boy and remind him that we were having to pay for this.  We also educated (or attempted to) on the concept of the "markup" and how he was buying these items at a very steep price.

After our discussion, he curbed his spending/eating habits and we found only a handful of extra charges on his account each week.  However, after a month or so, he seemed to forget our talk, and he began stockpiling the cream pies again.  This time, he added energy drinks, ice cream bars and chips.  So... we talked with him again and reminded him that we were not willing to pay for these items - especially at the prices they were charging.  Not only were they unhealthy choices for snacks, but we were paying double or triple what we would in the grocery store for the very same items.

His biological mom, however, told him to go ahead and buy snacks and she gave him permission to spend five extra dollars per week.

Excuse me?!?!  If he eats five lunches per week at $2.25 a lunch, that's $11.25 on lunches.  She offered him an increase of nearly 50% with which he could buy junk.  We did not support this, and we told him that the extra money would only be put into his account for his mom's custodial weeks.  There - problem solved.

Except... he didn't change his spending habits one bit.  He just kept right on ordering what he wanted and expecting us to pay for it.  He'd go in waves of buying an extreme amount of junk food, then we'd have a talk with him and the spending would decrease for a week or so, and as soon as we thought we'd gotten through to him... BAM!.. another week of seven dollars' worth of cream pies.

So... I gave in.  If he wanted cream pies, I'd buy them for a fraction of the cost at the grocery store, and send them to school with him each week.  That way, we weren't overpaying for them, and he'd get a treat with lunch each day.  Great idea!  But... the cream pies remained in our pantry and he wouldn't bring them to school.  Turns out, he doesn't even like cream pies - he was buying them for kids at schools (I still don't know if it was for friends or bullies - either way, not a good way to buy friends or solve a bully problem).

For over two years, we've had this battle with the boy over lunch money.  We remind him to not overspend, and he keeps overspending.

Fast forward to today.  He's now in High School and this year, we decided that we'd simply pay the exact amount for his lunches during our custodial weeks.  Every week, we deposit $11.25 into his account.  When this plan was first implemented, he had about $25 extra in his lunch account.  He's now diminished all the "extra" money and as of last Friday, went into the negative.  Either his mom will have to pay extra to get him caught up, or he'll have to miss lunch for a few days until his funds are replenished.  I know this seems harsh, but we've offered to provide healthy snacks, bottled water, and juice bottles that he can bring to school.

In the last month, he's spent $8.75 on bottled water ($1.25 each), $4.80 on drumstick ice cream treats; $1.00 on ice cream sundaes; $3.60 on Nutty Bars (12 @ $.30 each); $1.50 on dessert rolls; $1.50 on chips; $1.00 on donuts; and $3.45 on miscellaneous junk food (what the heck is a "clodhopper" by the way?).  Over 22 days, he spent $49.50 on lunch and $25.10 on junk food. None of what he purchased as "extras" was a healthy choice for a growing body, and the bottled water is just a waste of money, especially when we have several cases of the stuff at home and he can easily bring a couple to school with him in the morning.

It's not that I want him to eat less; it's that I want him to make healthy choices and learn to budget the money he's allocated for lunch.  It concerns me that he hasn't caught on to this in the two and a half years we've been trying to teach this lesson.

Unfortunately, he's competing in a track meet on Friday afternoon and I don't know that he'll be able to eat lunch at school on Friday.  I really have no idea how else to get through to him, other than let him suffer the consequences.  He has to learn that life is not fare.

There's your pun for Thursday.


  1. VERY good plan! I know you guys well enough to know you ALWAYS have healthy food at your house - and that he COULD bring himself a sandwich and some applesauce or yougert (or even one of those cream pies!) and some bottled water. Then he would HAVE lunch on Friday. Problem solved.

    I agree. There isn't a parent out there that would encourage unhealthy eating like this while he was in their home. So why would it be ok to eat the crap while at school?

    He'll have no choice but to catch on. Isn't actual parenting fun? LOL

  2. Thanks... we'll see how it goes. As you probably know, I'm not even supposed to be looking at his lunch account/activity 'cause it's inappropriate for a step-parent to do things like that.

    Undoubtedly, we will be the bad guys in this situation, but I don't know what else to do.

    I make healthy (and hearty) meals here, and always have a dessert for the kids, so it's not like he's missing out on sweet snacks. He just has unhealthy habits and in the long run, it will cost us not only for the lunch money, but for dentist and doctor bills as well.

    Although you might think of this as "actual" parenting, I see this one pretty much as common sense :o)