When lunch money runs out

A student walks up to the cashier in the school cafeteria line, hands the worker an I.D. card to pay for the meal but finds out there is no money in the account.

If this is the first time the student hasn’t been able to pay for lunch, cafeteria workers will give the child the same meal everyone else is having — pizza, chicken nuggets or lasagna.

But after two or three days in a row of not paying for lunch, the student is given a substitute meal — often a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

School districts throughout Johnson County have rules in place in case a student can’t pay for lunch. Students typically can charge two meals before they are given a different meal of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a piece of fruit or a vegetable and milk.

If a parent doesn’t pay before the school year ends, the fees are brought up again when school starts up in the fall. But in every school district, almost every parent pays for the extra lunches before the end of the school year, officials said.

No matter what, cafeteria workers have to provide each child with a meal. If a child has no money to pay, they can have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a milk from the cafeteria.

Exactly when a student gets that alternative meal differs by school district.

For Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson students, the school district has a rule: After May 15, students no longer can get a hot meal unless they have cash in their hand. If a student can’t pay or forgot to pack a lunch, students are then served a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, district food service director Carol Schaaf said. Letters are sent out to the parents in early May to make sure they pay back the student’s hot meals before summer starts.

At most schools, parents can refill a student’s I.D. card with money for lunch. But once that I.D. card gets low on cash, school districts remind parents — sometimes multiple times a week — to refill their child’s account so they don’t have to receive that peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Between 75 and 100 calls are made per night in the Center Grove school district to remind parents to fill I.D. cards with more money, Center Grove director of food services Shannon Nesius said.

Clark-Pleasant cafeteria managers have to call eight to 10 elementary school parents and 10 to 15 middle or intermediate school parents every day, food services director Kim Combs said.

Typically, students only need to eat one peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch before their parents pay their balance and put more money into the accounts, school administrators said. But certain parents can rack up $20 or $25 per child that they owe to the cafeterias before the end of the school year.

About 15 children at Clark-Pleasant schools throughout the year go beyond what the school will cover for lunch. But typically, that occurs when there is a family emergency, Combs said.

If a parent has gone a week or so without giving their child money for lunch, either the counselors or principal will call the parents and see why they aren’t paying for lunches, she said. In past cases, a parent has been hospitalized or has had an emergency expense like repairing a car, she said. And if a parent can’t afford to pay immediately, students can pack their lunch until they can pay, she said.

In the cafeteria

Here’s a look at how much parents must owe before their child is given an alternate meal:

Center Grove

High school: $2.30 (one lunch)

Middle schools: $7.20 (two lunches, two breakfasts)

Elementary schools: $10.35 (three lunches, three breakfasts)


Grades 5-12: $4.60 (two meals)

Kindergarten through Grade 4: $4.40 (two meals)


All grades: $10


High school: No charges allowed

Middle school: $2.45 (one meal)

Elementary schools: $4.50 (two meals)


High school: $5.10-$7.65 (two or three meals)

Middle school: $5-$7.50 (two or three meals)

Elementary, intermediate schools: $4.90-$7.35 (two or three meals)