Financial lessons in the lunch line: Budgeting school lunch programs

School lunch program gives kids opportunity to learn about budgeting
Published: Aug. 11, 2023 at 2:31 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 11, 2023 at 5:23 PM EDT
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LIBERTY TOWNSHIP, Ohio (WXIX) - School cafeterias can be more than a place where students get their lunch; they can serve as a place for financial lessons.

It won’t be long before the registers at the Lakota East Freshman Campus cafeteria are busy with teenagers stacking snacks on their trays but many schools in the area offer parents the option to limit the number of snacks their students are grabbing in the cafeteria.

At Lakota Local Schools, parents can fill out an accounts restriction form for their kids.

“They get to choose by dollar value what the students get to spend daily, weekly, or monthly,” says Lakota Local Schools Child Nutrition Assistant Director Kelly Crum. “So, if mom wants Johnny to spend only .50 cents per day or .65 cents per day to buy a snack, that will be what his account restriction is.”

Allworth Financial’s Amy Wagner says too many families aren’t talking about money with their kids, and a child’s money mentality develops early.

“Most of us have our relationship with money by the time we are seven years old,” Wagner explains. “That means, are we going to be savers, are we going to be spenders? That relationship is already formed by [age] seven.”

The school cafeteria becomes an opportunity to educate with restriction forms like the ones Lakota has in place. It can be a good way to force kids to think about budgeting.

“I really think them just kind of thinking through that is a very fun thing for a lot of kids that they can make a grown-up decision as to when they’re going to spend extra money,” says Wagner.

When it comes to daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly allowances for kids in the lunch room, Wagner recommends the weekly approach.

“I like the fact that it’s not every day,” Wagner says. “As adults, we have to make decisions, right? We can’t treat ourselves every day. Maybe some people do have Starbucks every day or really nice meals, but for most of us, we have to budget, and budgeting is deciding, ‘Ok, I am going to treat myself, but I can’t treat myself every day.”

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