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Carol Bainbridge

Preschool Food Police?

By February 16, 2012

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Earlier this week, a North Carolina preschooler's lunch was deemed insufficiently nutritious and replaced with a more nutritious one. What could be wrong with that?

We know that some children lack a proper diet and that childhood obesity is becoming epidemic. To ensure that children have a proper diet, the Division of Child Development and Early Education at the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, requires that lunches served in pre-kindergarten programs meet USDA guidelines:
  • one serving of meat
  • one serving of milk
  • one serving of grain
  • two servings of fruit or vegetables
Sounds good, right? But "serving" food apparently includes handing children the lunch they brought from home and was packed by their parents. The food inspector at the West Hoke Elementary School decided that the following lunch from home did not meet the guidelines:
  • turkey and cheese sandwich
  • one banana
  • apple juice
  • chips
The little preschooler was given a school lunch tray to replace the lunch from home. The school lunch included, among other things, chicken nuggets. She ate three of those and nothing else.

Vincent Iannelli, Guide to Pediatrics, explains that the inspector made a mistake. The policy does not require that lunches be replaced. It simply requires that if a child's lunch is missing one of the foods, the school should add it to what the child brought from home. So if a child's lunch is missing a fruit, the lunch inspector would just give the child a piece of fruit.

Okay. That's better. But I still have a problem with it and so does Jeanette Bradley, Guide to Food Allergies. She sees the health issue another way. Parents of children with food allergies pack their children's lunches according to what is safe for their child to eat. She recognizes children with food allergies could be given a food that is life threatening.

Those of us with picky eaters also have a problem with this idea too. I knew what my son ate for breakfast and I knew what he was going to eat for dinner. I packed his lunch accordingly. His diet for the day almost always met dietary standards. But if you looked at his lunch he brought one day - cucumber sandwich, orange slices, and milk - you'd see he was lacking a protein.

And frankly, it bothers me a bit that a school has a "food inspector" to begin with,someone who determines whether or not a parent has packed a proper lunch. We all want children to be healthy, but this story demonstrates how well-intentioned programs can go wrong.

More on this topic from other About.com guides:
Amanda Rock, About.com Guide to Preschoolers
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