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This past January, a little girl’s homemade lunch was confiscated from North Carolina’s West Hoe Elementary School  because it did not meet the proper “nutritional criteria.” The four-year-old girl was given processed chicken nuggets instead.

The USDA’s guidelines state that sack lunches brought from home must contain one serving of meat (or meat alternative), one serving of milk, one serving of grain and two or more servings of  fruit or vegetables. The regulations also states that if meals or snacks brought from home do not meet nutritional requirements outlined in the “Meal Patterns for Children in Child Care,” the school “must provide additional food necessary to meet those requirements.”

The young girl’s lunch contained; a turkey and cheese sandwich, a banana, potato chips and apple juice- the culprit in this situation decided that even though her lunch contained cheese, there was no milk, and her fruit serving was too small. The irony, of course, is that the three processed chicken nuggets the girl ended up eating fail even worse to meet the USDA guidelines, which are questionable in the first place. Oh, and the as for the lack of “one serving of milk” in her lunchbox- the USDA is most likely referring to those mini cartons of  processed, homogenized milk products which are found to be unhealthy.

According to  and article in the Carolina Journal, the mother worried that her daughter was getting the wrong impression on what food is “right”.

“What got me so mad is, number one, don’t tell my kid I’m not packing her lunch box properly,” the girl’s mother toldCJ. “I pack her lunchbox according to what she eats. It always consists of a fruit. It never consists of a vegetable. She eats vegetables at home because I have to watch her because she doesn’t really care for vegetables.”

 “You’re telling a 4-year-old. ‘oh. your lunch isn’t right,’ and she’s thinking there’s something wrong with her food.” 

A spokeswoman for the Division of Child Development said that should not have been a problem. “With a turkey sandwich, that covers your protein, your grain, and if it had cheese on it, that’s the dairy,” said Jani Kozlowski, the fiscal and statutory policy manager for the division. “It sounds like the lunch itself would’ve met all of the standard.” The lunch has to include a fruit or vegetable, but not both, she said. 

The state regulation reads:

  • “Sites must provide breakfast and/or snacks and lunch meeting USDA requirements during the regular school day. The partial/full cost of meals may be charged when families do not qualify for free/reduced price meals.”
  • “When children bring their own food for meals and snacks to the center, if the food does not meet the specified nutritional requirements, the center must provide additional food necessary to meet those requirements.”

The new standards set by the government is the first move of its kind in over 15 years. We can see that the effort to provide healthy options for children at a young age is challenging. Currently the  Obama administration is working on setting nutritional standards for foods that children can buy outside the cafeteria (vending machines), which is a controversy in itself. While the measures mark a step forward from previous years, they still compromise amid push-back from Congress to keep pizza and french fries on the menu counting both the tomato paste and potatoes as vegetable. In recent news, the federal government started investigating “pink slime,” or what the USDA calls “lean, finely textured beef.” It has been used in the National School Lunch Program for years and only now has  the problem surfaced. The USDA just announced that School districts will be able to opt out of using “pink slime” in their school lunches. In my opinion, it shouldn’t even be an option! What I don’t understand, is how the government can regulate home-packed lunches when they haven’t fully cracked down on cafeteria food?

I don’t think the government has any business regulating, let alone invasively inspecting, the home-packed lunches of schoolchildren, and forcing them to eat government-sanctioned cafeteria food. Especially when the majority of cafeteria food are not up to standards. I understand this is a way to ensure children are getting a balanced nutritional meal but no one learns when one is forced to do something. There are other ways to go about this. Taking away food that “mama” made for you and shoving a tray of pizza in front of a child sends the wrong message: “mama” doesn’t know what’s right. Instead, talk to the parents about it and suggest healthy alternatives. If a parent is packing unhealthy things for lunch, they are most likely feeding them the same type of food for all meals. The only way this can stick if the parent and child learn whats good for them and more importantly why.

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