Get Government Out Of … Lunchboxes?

turkey sandwichImagine you’ve packed your daughter’s lunch. It’s the usual fare for a rather particular four-year-old—turkey and cheese on whole wheat, a banana, some chips, and apple juice.  At the end of the day, the lunch box is returned full along with a note from the school. The lunch inspector did not think your child’s meal met federal standards. Oh, and by the way, the note requested $1.25 for the replacement approved meal. You ask your daughter for more information and she tells you the only thing she liked on the school lunch tray was chicken nuggets.

Unbelievable, right?

Recently this happened to a  North Carolina preschool student.  Her home packed lunch was replaced by a school inspector. The worker believed it did not meet USDA standards as required by law and insisted the child eat an accepted school lunch. A picky eater, she ate only the chicken nuggets, throwing the rest in the trash. A note was sent home to the parent along with a charge for the school meal. Understandably, the parent was upset. She wondered why the school didn’t tell her there was a problem first.  It makes us question: Who is in charge of our childrens’ meal planning?

Do government officials have the right to tell us what to feed our children?  State licensed schools and daycare programs can require parents to provide pre-kindergarten children with an approved USDA lunch or insist that the child eat an alternative meal (provided by the school and in many cases, paid for by the parent).  Note: In the NC case, school leaders have said they weren’t aware of these actions and think the employee may have misinterpreted the state regulations.

The case of the chicken nugget lunch brings to the forefront the issue of who can tell us what to feed our children at school.  No one disputes that it is important that growing bodies need good nutritious meals throughout the day. However, does the government have the right to only allow a child to eat “healthy lunches?” Is what is healthy at their discretion? How much government intrusion can be tolerated? What are a parent’s options?  What if a child has food intolerance or other health restrictions of which the food inspectors are unaware? What if there are religious restrictions for certain foods? What if the concerned parent wants his child to eat only organic, free-range products?

There is concern that many parents today do not know how or want to take the time to pack a nutritious meal. We hear the stories of children sent to school with cookies and a soda. Some in schools believe educators know what is better for children than parents.  Is this a good enough excuse for the government to step in? Or would it be better to provide parents with nutritional meal suggestions and recipes. Do you give away your parental rights sending your child to a state run public school? Do parents give the government ability to dictate what food the children are served?

Others argue that providing healthy foods is too costly. The government does provide a safety net for families with lower income. Accepting government assistance comes with a price; once you take something they may feel compelled to request something in return, to regulate what you do, say, or eat. So it is no surprise then if you want to receive a school lunch the government will have a say in the food options.  While many who oppose Federal Government involvement are okay with regulations from the State or Local level there are even more who believe the responsibility for meals should lie entirely with the parent. Parents who want to pack lunch should be allowed.

After all, do you want to leave lunch up to an agency that believes pizza counts as a vegetable?

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