Saturday, September 20, 2014

School Lunch in Costa Rica

When our son, Max began his first year in public school in Costa Rica, we were shocked to receive a note from his teacher after the first week that he owed the lunch lady money. It could have been that we do not speak fluent Spanish and did not understand, or that since he began his classes half way through the school year, we did not get the memo, but it appeared that Max had been eating his way through the week to a tune of about $4 US. After a brief discussion with the teacher, we learned that we were supposed to be sending Max to school with money each day, she suggested about 100 colones to 200 colones (20 to 40 cents US) and we were a little surprised since he was only 4 years old and only attending school for a half day, from 7 am to 10:30 am. 

So we sat Max down and discussed a few things with him. We explained the meaning of money and how you can only spend what you have in your pocket. You can save some for later, or spend it all at one time. You have to make decisions about what you purchase, because once the money is spent, it is gone, and you do not get more until tomorrow. We also explained that if he saves his money from school, he can buy a treat after school. We cleared our tab with the lunch lady and allowed Max to start fresh, with no debt. 

Back when I went to school in Texas, we had several choices. We could go through the line and get a tray of the daily special, usually a hot meal of fried chicken fingers with mashed potatoes & gravy, or the burrito special, usually so deep fried or nuked that you could not cut it with the plastic utensils that accompanied the meal. Sometimes I would just go to the machine and get a cold, usually wet and soggy sandwich. Sometimes I would just opt for a soda. Basically spending a minimum of $1.25 every day. After a little research on the internet, it looks like the school lunch line is still about $1.25 per day; shocking since I have not attended school in over 20 years yet the price is the same; plus children have many additional offerings from fresh fruit to vending machines with, in my opinion, too much variety and probably sky rocketing the daily allowance above $1.25. 

In Costa Rica, we were pleased to see about 5 choices of fresh homemade foods. Empanadas, Cookies, Arroz con Pollo (chicken and rice), Arroz con Frijoles (beans and rice) and fruits. Occasionally they offer tamales and popcorn. The best part, is Max loves the freedom of choosing his snacks and feeling responsibility with his allowance. Sara is watching him and also learning the value of money, especially since she knows everyone gets an ice cream on Friday. She still asks for one every day and "Why?" is her new favorite word, but since ice cream is very expensive here, we explain the value of money every day and divert her attention with teaching her the days of the week until Friday - Ice cream day! The other best part, is that I do not have to rush home and make lunch. Max has been making good choices at school and filling up on Arroz con Pollo every day, like his friends. 
In no way am I saying school lunches in the States are better than the school lunch my 5 year old receives in Costa Rica. I am happy with the price though. 20 cents for a bowl of chicken and rice is a good deal no matter where you live:) As long as Max keeps eating like this, he can grow up to be big and strong. And with the right coaching from us, he will also know how important it will be to stay out of debt. Pura Vida!

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