UPDATE: As I noted yesterday, we had yet to hear the other side of this bizarre story. Among the reports I am getting today: No federal guidelines led to the subbing of the home-brought lunch of the 4-year-old with a school lunch. There was a state review under way of the child care center at the school, which includes the nutritional content of the lunches eaten by children. A teacher apparently was concerned about one child’s homemade lunch and overreacted. I am being told that the school apologized to the parent. There are probably more updates to come. I am trying to get a comment from the state.
Three readers sent me links today to this story out of North Carolina about what sounds like an overzealous response by food police checking pre-school lunch trays.
A state inspector (not sure what that means) checking a Raeford, N.C., elementary school lunchroom decreed that a 4-year-old’s lunch from home — a turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips, and apple juice — did not meet U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, according to the Carolina Journal story. Instead, the child was given cafeteria chicken nuggets.
While I share concerns about childhood obesity, I still remain uncertain of the right role for schools. This story clearly exemplifies the wrong role.
But let me also add that we don’t know the school’s side of this odd tale. Was the child tossing her sandwich and fruit every day and only eating the chips? Was she telling her teacher she was hungry so she was offered the school lunch? (And was the “agent” cited in the story actually the teacher?) In deference to student privacy, schools often don’t respond to stories like this, so we are left only with the parent’s account.
A reader was surprised to read this but checked and reported back: I was stunned by this, so I looked to the NC website and found this. It provides:
CHILD CARE RULE .0901
Food From Home
When children bring their own food for meals or snacks to the center, if the food does not meet the nutritional requirements outlined in the Meal Patterns for Children in Child Care, the center must provide additional food necessary to meet those requirements.
I am only sharing an excerpt of the lengthy piece, but if you read the full story, you get the sense that, if this happened, it will not happen again. (The full story also cites the state regulation.)
A preschooler at West Hoke Elementary School ate three chicken nuggets for lunch Jan. 30 because a state employee told her the lunch her mother packed was not nutritious. The girl’s turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips, and apple juice did not meet U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, according to the interpretation of the agent who was inspecting all lunch boxes in her More at Four classroom that day.
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 day care centers — to meet USDA guidelines. That means lunches must consist of one serving of meat, one serving of milk, one serving of grain, and two servings of fruit or vegetables, even if the lunches are brought from home.
When home-packed lunches do not include all of the required items, child care providers must supplement them with the missing ones. The girl’s mother — who said she wishes to remain anonymous to protect her daughter from retaliation — said she received a note from the school stating that students who did not bring a “healthy lunch” would be offered the missing portions, which could result in a fee from the cafeteria, in her case $1.25.
“I don’t feel that I should pay for a cafeteria lunch when I provide lunch for her from home,” the mother wrote in a complaint to her state representative. “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 told
When the girl came home with her lunch untouched, her mother wanted to know what she ate instead. Three chicken nuggets, the girl answered.
While the mother and grandmother thought the potato chips and lack of vegetable were what disqualified the lunch, 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.”
–From Maureen Downey for the AJC Get Schooled blog