Yesterday, the Carolina Journal ran a story about a preschooler at West Hoke Elementary School who was told to eat chicken nuggets from the school cafeteria because a state employee told her the lunch her mother packed her was not nutritious.
Here's what was in the lunch: a turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips and apple juice. Really? Doesn't that sound healthier than nuggets?
A U.S. Department of Agriculture agent was inspecting lunches in the little girl's classroom yesterday, and made that judgment.
The Division of Child Development and Early Education at the Department of Health and Human Services requires all lunches served in pre-kindergarten programs - including in-home daycare - meet USDA guidelines. The guidelines include one serving of meat, one serving of milk, one serving of grain and two servings of fruit or vegetables - even if lunches are brought from home.
And if a lunch doesn't meet these guidelines, then a child care provider must supplement with the missing items.
In the case of this little girl, the mom was given a note that afternoon stating these rules - and the fact that she did not pack a "healthy lunch" - and was charged $1.25 for the cafeteria food.
I find this completely outrageous for so many reasons. No. 1: That was a healthy little lunch. Adding three nuggets didn't change anything. Were they fried? Baked? No. 2: Kids are picky. And while I believe in trying to introduce kids to a variety of foods, I don't believe in forcing. I know what my kids like and I get the healthy mix of foods they like into their lunches. Because I'm their mom. No. 3: What about the vegetarian and vegan families? I have a good friend who is a stanch vegetarian. He takes great care to feed his children very well, getting in all necessary nutrients. It's not a religious choice, but one made from years of research on the topic. He truly feels it's important to avoid all meat. And that choice should absolutely not be taken from him. No. 4: If I am able to provide for my child, I am responsible for his or her meals, no one else. For those unable to provide, then I understand that providers should be held to some standard of care.
The most ridiculous part of this story was what the little girl actually ate that day. She came home with the lunch her mother packed still left untouched. When Mom asked, "What did you eat?" The little girl told her she ate the nuggets. She didn't like anything else on the tray. So her "healthy" lunch just consisted of nuggets.
AND, after talking to the spokesperson for the Division of Child Development, the mother found her lunch actually should have been fine. She assumed the potato chips and lack of veggies "disqualified" the lunch, but the spokesperson said the chips were fine, the turkey met the meat requirement, the cheese met dairy, and fruit met the fruit or veggies requirement. What a mess.
This isn't to say I don't understand the frustration childcare providers and many others feel with the parents who send a soda and Twinkie in their kid's lunch. Childhood obesity is a real problem. And I'm happy to see school campuses with healthier choices in the vending machines, rather than all junk, and offering good, healthy food for those who buy everyday in the cafeteria. I'm all for teaching children (and parents) as much as possible about the importance of eating right, exercise and all that good stuff.
But when you take choice away, I have a real problem with that.
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