What Are the Pros and Cons of Fast Food in Schools?

Serving fast food in schools helps to offset the cost of offering free and reduced-price lunches to students, a major advantage for cafeteria managers. One of the major drawbacks of offering fast food is that many of the food items contain more fat and sugar than children should consume in one meal.

Although the federal government reimburses schools for participating in the free and reduced-price lunch program, the reimbursement usually doesn’t cover all the expenses associated with running a school cafeteria. To close the gap in funding, cafeteria managers must serve foods that students want to buy. Brand-conscious students are more likely to buy hamburgers and pizza from fast-food chains, giving cafeteria managers the extra dollars they need to continue operating without laying off staff members.

Serving fast-food in schools has several drawbacks. From a nutritional standpoint, many fast-food items are highly processed, and some items, such as diet soda, have no nutritional value. Children who eat fast-food items instead of fresh produce, lean meats and whole grains generally don’t get the nutrients they need. Allowing fast food in schools also provides corporations more opportunities to market to children.

Michele Simon, a policy consultant for the Center for Food Safety, says that offering fast food in school cafeterias stigmatizes low-income students. Students participating in the federal school lunch program may not have the cash needed to purchase fast-food items, setting them apart from students who are able to afford a la carte purchases.