Everyone remembers the packed-lunch days of preschool — a brown paper bag filled with a sandwich, chips, some fruit and maybe a juice box. Sounds good, right?
Well, apparently it’s not good enough, at least according to North Carolina’s Division of Child Development and Early Education at the Department of Health and Human Services. Their requirements state that all school pre-kindergarten program lunches have to meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, including packed lunches from home.
A North Carolinian 4-year-old had arrived at school with her packed lunch as described above, only to be told it wasn’t “healthy enough.” She was then given a prepared school lunch, of which she only ate a few chicken nuggets, and her mother was charged $1.25 for the food.
Now, $1.25 isn’t too much for a cafeteria lunch, but that’s not the point. The real problem is school officials being able to dictate what is acceptable for children to eat for their lunch. There are so many issues with this, it’s hard to figure out where to begin.
It’s not clear who declared the lunch to be unfit or why, but it doesn’t make sense. According to the USDA guidelines used in this incident, lunches must consist of one serving of meat, one serving of milk, one serving of grain and two servings of fruit or vegetables.
Now that’s a great standard, especially for school-made lunches, but the idea that this requirement has to be forced on lunches brought from home starts to cross the line of government interference. What parents decide to give their children for lunch should not be dictated by schools or government agencies.
Encouragement of healthy eating certainly isn’t a bad thing.
However, if our government wants to keep children healthy, they can start with making the school-provided lunches follow their own standards. I’m sure the chicken nugget meal passed the requirements, but how is processed chicken meat and a cup of prepackaged fruit any healthier than a homemade sandwich, a banana and a juice box?
To make matters worse, they charged the mother for the meal.
If mandates on food healthiness are what the government want, then they can start with removing the unhealthy food from the lunches they provide, rather than from parents.
That said, it’s hard to trust the current government to get even that part right. It was only last fall that Congress blocked an initiative by the Obama administration to increase the standards on what counted as a “serving” of vegetables.
The result: Pizza and french fries can still be counted in that vegetable serving, sodium restrictions are lessened and not as many whole grains are required.
Who benefits from this? The makers of cheap, processed junk foods who can keep selling their unhealthy lunches to schools without having to increase standards (and costs) on their production. Who opposed these restrictions? The food industry.
There are two scenarios here, and it seems like the wrong choices are being made in both of them. On one side, there’s a government that wants to force healthy food on kids, even if that means declaring personal lunches unfit for consumption. But on the other side, we have a Congress that votes down nutritional requirements for federally-funded food and leaves pizza and french fries in the lunch lines.
It should be just the opposite. Healthy eating is a good idea, but you can’t force it on people. Government money should be spent on healthy foods; we have a big enough problem with obesity in this country without our schools helping. At the same time, the government should have no say in what parents want to give their children for packed lunches because that’s none of their business.