I finally came across a Dan Ariely answer I agreed with.
Or at least I thought so until I read the comments.
My children’s school has a mix of affluent and poor families. Some of the students qualify for free breakfast, but they don’t take advantage of it because of the social stigma. What can we do so that these children don’t have to make a choice between going hungry and telling the world they can’t afford to pay for their meals? —Namrata
And here is Dan’s response, which I thought was brilliant:
It’s natural for children to avoid having to show their wealthier friends that they can’t afford breakfast. If I could design the school cafeteria, I would arrange it so that students from better-off families would purchase a special debit card to buy breakfast while needier kids would receive an identical card for getting their free breakfasts. That way, everyone would simply hand a card to the cashier, and no one would be able to tell who was paying and who was not.
Dan’s solution seems to solve the problem of allowing the students who qualify for a free meal to remain anonymous. I couldn’t think of a better solution, and I should have quit while I was ahead. I thought I could get a short but sweet blog post out of the fact that I finally agreed with one of Dan’s answers.
But then I made the mistake of reading the comments (there were only two).
One of the commenters pointed out that the issue wasn’t really one of remaining anonymous at the point of checkout since many schools already have some type of account system in place.
The issue was that for the most part, it was primarily the lower income students who were eating breakfast. So even if you had a debit card, that didn’t hide the fact that you were eating breakfast, and thus telling the world that you were poor.
The commenter suggested that a proper solution would involve getting more kids to eat breakfast at school. This would allow the lower income students to blend in with their higher income peers. Such a solution is obviously harder than the simple debit card system suggested by Dan, since it involves changing people’s behavior. But it does seem to get to the heart of the problem.
I guess this highlights the power of getting a variety of opinions on a problem, and not just accepting the first solution, or the solution from the leader of a group (Dan) or the smartest person in the room (again, Dan).
As for how you get more kids to eat breakfast?
Perhaps making food that is appealing and nutritious – smoothies and acai bowls come to mind. Add a smoothie or acai bowl rewards program; for every four that you consume, you get your fifth one free.
It’s critical that students who qualify for free meals get those free meals. But it’s also important that those students don’t feel ostracized for being part of the free meals program.
A combination of a debit card system along with more nutritious and tasty meals, along with some type of incentive reward system, may be just the solution needed.