School Lunch Uproar in North Carolina Preschool

School Nutrition
turkey sandwichTo read the internet the past two days, you’d think Michelle Obama was stealing lunches from four-year-olds. Breathless news anchors are outraged over this. What’s really going on?

On February 14, the Carolina Journal News published an article about a little girl whose homemade lunch wasn’t considered healthy enough by a state agent. The state agent (unnamed in the source article and the updates) supplemented the girl’s lunch by giving her a lunch from the school cafeteria. The little girl’s lunch was not taken away.

The girl, being only four years old, seems to have thought that she was supposed to eat only the school lunch. She ate what she liked on the tray, which was three chicken nuggets, and threw away the rest. She brought her homemade lunch home to her mother. Inside was a bill for $1.25 for the school lunch.

Understandably, the mother was upset. She had prepared a lunch for her daughter which went uneaten and now the school wanted to charge for the supplemental lunch. The mother complained to the school and her state representative. The school looked into it and said the mother was right and she won’t be charged for the school lunch.

NCPK and the USDA

The North Carolina Prekindergarten Program (NCPK) is a state-run program designed to improve educational outcomes in at-risk children. The idea behind the program is that all children can learn if given the opportunity, but at-risk children have not been given the same level of opportunity.

According to evaluations done by the University of North Carolina, NCPK (formerly known as More at Four) and its associate program Smart Start, aimed at at-risk kids from birth to preschool, have been very successful at helping these at-risk kids achieve academically.

This year saw budget cuts in education in many states and North Carolina was no exception. The NC Division of Child Development felt it was worth preserving high quality prekindergarten services and folded NCPK into their department.

One part of what the NCPK does is seek to ensure that children are not malnourished. A rule states that every child must receive nutrition at least as good as the USDA guidelines for school lunches. If a homemade lunch is not nutritious enough, the daycare or preschool must supplement the lunch so that the child has access to all nutrients.

NCPK does not answer to the USDA for this. It’s a state rule.

What Was Wrong with the Girl’s Lunch?

Here’s where it gets a little tricky. Nothing was wrong with the girl’s lunch. I suspect it was a case of someone taking a quick glance at the lunch and not noticing some part of the lunch.

The homemade lunch contained a sandwich with turkey and cheese on white whole wheat bread, a banana, potato chips, and apple juice. That more than meets the USDA’s school lunch requirements. There’s a meat/meat alternative, whole grain rich item, and more than the minimum of fruits and veggies. Yes, potato chips count as a vegetable. The apple juice and banana count as two fruits.

While cheese is a dairy product, the USDA requires one cup of fluid milk be included with a lunch. That might be what the agent reacted to. Another guess is that the turkey on the sandwich wasn’t hanging outside the bread and the agent thought there was not enough protein in the lunch.

Overreach or Overreaction?

Are Michelle Obama and her food police actually coming for your children’s lunches? No, the federal government had nothing to do with this. NCPK is entirely state-run. States’ rights and all that.

The only real story here is that a problem occurred where a well-meaning school employee gave a child a lunch she didn’t need and a mother was charged for it. The mother contacted officials and the problem was corrected. That’s all.

Turkey sandwich photo via Shutterstock

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10 thoughts on “School Lunch Uproar in North Carolina Preschool”

  1. Overreach is an understatement! How will you feel when it is your breakfast, luch or dinner that they are searching and “supplementing” with their idea of how you should be eating? I do not want anyone telling me, my children or other family members that we have to eat meat, cheese, milk or whatever else is “good for me” according to outdated, invalid studies supported by those who profit from my lack of health.

    1. I disagree. I think the agent was wrong in this case, but not in intent. At-risk children don’t always get enough to eat or the most nutritious foods. They get what their parents can afford. If my kid showed up at school without enough food, I would consider it a kindness that someone fed her. If my kid showed up at school with a good homemade lunch and the school supplemented it with a cafeteria lunch and charged me for it, I would talk to the school about it and they would fix it.

    2. I agree with you Marquesa. This is outrageous. No school official should have the right to even so much as touch a kid’s lunch that was sent from home. Period. Don’t settle for continued big government (federal OR state) intrusions in your life, even when they try to frame it as being “good for the children” or whatever other excuse these government cretins use.

  2. I find it ironic that a site about “Eat, drink better” is actually saying a school lunch program is good for you, better than what you get from home. HUH? The REAL problem here is that parents don’t have any say anymore, the are overidden by “school guidelines”. PLEASE, at least go to a school website and READ the cafeteria menu before you start saying this was just an over reaction. My main problem with school lunches is that many starchy foods are called “vegetables” so you can have bread, corn, potatoes, in one meal and meet all the “USDA” guidelines. Well, the guidelines are behind the times!!!!! If you come from a family of diabetics, and/or are glucose intolerant, then all those starches are horrible for you. My thought too, is what if you have a food allergy to dairy – too bad, in this case, you have to have it there anyway. Doesn’t matter if it isn’t good for you!! Look at pizza day at most schools: pizza HAS to be accompianed by a BREAD, did you know that? So, we get pizza, breadsticks, corn, potatoes, oh yeah, a really healthy lunch… Apparently someone made a mistake here, the point isn’t the mistake, the point is that mom is afraid to even say her name in public because of the possible repurcussions. The point is that someone has the power to determine that your kids food from home isn’t good. The above article makes it seem that the kid had her lunch from home and was just given a supplemental tray. I don’t believe for a minute that is what happeded. If she had her lunch in the cafeteria, it would have been thrown away and not sent home with her. That’s how they do in in the schools, everything is dumped at the end of lunch. So, mom wouldn’t have even known about it. I don’t disagree with a school being allowed to provide a healthy lunch for a kid who brings only a coke and a twinkie to school. I disagree with a guideline that is so strong that a teacher, or someone else, is so concerned about the law and the repurcussions from the law, that they would decide to give a kid a lunch from school instead of the one sent from home, “just in case” the one from home isn’t considered healthy enough.

  3. This situtation is very simple; It’s not about nutrition, it’s about having control over people, and all facits of their lives by this government, whether it be local, state, or federal.
    It’s time to wake up folks!

    1. I will have to agree w/ you on this one. In reading our 9th amendment of the Constitution, we have rights not listed under the Bill of Rights. And if we allow the govt to step in as in this situation, the govt will continue until we no longer have such rights. It’s time that our country gets back to “We the People” as our founding fathers intentions were over 200 yrs ago.I don’t have an issue w/ Michelle Obama wanting better nutrition for children, but control of the schools is not part of the Federal govt. It amazes me that 5% of school funding comes from the federal govt, and yet only about 23% of the school policies are from the states. Yes, 78% of our public school policies comes from the federal govt. How is that right? And if Michelle Obama really wants to make a difference in “our” childrens nutrition, how about reducing the amount of homework so that our children have time to play & exercise. Our children should have more time for lunch as well, unless 20 minutes is found to be appropriate. If the schools would take just 5 minutes off of each class and add it to their lunch time, they would have time to enjoy a salad, instead they grab on the go food. And one more thing, w/ the economy in such turmoil, how about lowering the cost of “healthier” foods so that people can afford to feed their children better. Oh wait, that would mean that we would have to drill, or atleast have the right to drill, in order to bring down the cost of fuel. As most of us know, when fuel goes up, so does inflation.

  4. What right does the state (or federal) official have to inspect any mom-packed lunch? This is a total intrusion into our lives. Our grand-daughter absolutely refuses to eat any type of fruit, even when it is in ice-cream or cake! Our daughter cannot meet these “guidelines” when packing her lunch, so should she be forced to buy a school lunch and throw away any fruit product anyway? This is a prime example of the “food police” and what a travesty this all is. Get out of our lives!!!

  5. That is definitely a tricky one, Heather, and I’m super torn about it! I love the idea of providing adequate nutrition to at-risk kids, but I’m not crazy about the idea of schools giving kids food. What if that child was being raised vegetarian or vegan, for example? In that case, giving her the chicken nuggets would be going against her parents’ beliefs. This rule definitely raises the question of how to best make sure kids are getting enough nutrition without undercutting well-meaning parents. So complicated!

  6. Judging nutrition by one meal is outright inappropriate, and judging one’s diet by a list drawn up by committee (typically with heavy input from various farm/commodity groups) is as well.

  7. I agree with a previous commenter. This is nothing more than power and control. If they really cared about adequate nutrition, why are they forbidding raw milk, yet basically looking the other way when GMOs and HFCS are in so many foods. We are not designed to digest the toxins bred into the grains, these toxins are being found in umbilical cord blood. HFCS, by whatever name they call it this week, is terrible. School aged pre-diabetics? Unheard of not many years ago.

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