North Carolina’s Nuggets War

Did you hear the one about the kid who went to school with a mom-packed lunch and was told to eat cafeteria chicken nuggets instead? It’s not funny, because it’s true.

The Carolina Journal reported this week that a school official told a preschooler that her packed lunch (turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips, and apple juice) was not up to code and made her eat a cafeteria lunch. The internet (myself included) erupted in anger, because we believed this was state policy. We all assumed that The Man was dictating what we eat.

Here’s what (I believe) really happened:

The North Carolina Division of Child Development has a “Child Care Center Handbook” which includes detailed information on nutrition. It states:

“Proper nutrition plays a crucial role in the health and development of children. Nutritious foods should be offered throughout the day to ensure children are getting the nourishment and energy they need to learn, grow, and be healthy. Research shows that there are crucial relationships between nutrition and health, and health and learning. This makes it especially important for caregivers to show children what it means to eat for good health, including how important it is to eat a variety of foods, and to provide proper nutrition through the meals and snacks served in child care. The purpose of these requirements is to establish the minimum nutritional requirements for children in child careĀ (emphasis mine).”

Minimum nutritional requirements. A noble cause, no?

The handbook states what those minimums are:

What I was looking for, and found, was the term “meat alternative.” You see, the Carolina Journal reported that lunch “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.” This was the part of the story that enraged me. The government is insisting that children eat meat? If I had children, with all I know about the benefits of a plant-based diet, I would not feed them meat. But the handbook, I’m so thrilled to say, recognizes that not all people eat meats, and allows for meat alternatives. Bravo.

The article is correct in its assertion that North Carolina’s school children must drink milk with each lunch or dinner. I’m not pleased by this. But I did some digging. North Carolina’s nutritional minimums are based on the USDA’s guidelines, and the new “Nutrition Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs,” which will go into effect on March 26, 2012, allow for children to drink milk substitutes or decline milk entirely if they choose. I hope that North Carolina will take note and change its guidelines accordingly.

Overall, what we’re witnessing is a multi-pronged game of telephone. First, the school employee who was tasked with inspecting lunches to make sure the kids are getting enough nutrition, clearly did not understand the policy very well and screwed up. While I don’t believe that feeding a child a turkey and cheese on white bread sandwich is healthy, it certainly meets the state’s guidelines. (As a side note, I continue to be amazed that people exist who think that a fried processed food like chicken nuggets is healthy, but clearly they do — this school official certainly does. I wonder what her kids eat.) [Note: the school official has not been named, but I’m going with “her” for the heck of it.]

Then we have the Carolina Journal’s turn at telephone. The initial article was full of so many holes that the editor has updated the story with more correct information. I would say that they have not yet done enough fact checking, because they are still not reporting correct information by stating emphatically that the program dictates kids eat meat.

From there, all of us Facebookers and Tweeters, propelled the telephone game even further spreading more and more incorrect information akin to the speed and reach of the Captain Trips’ super flu in Stephen King’s The Stand.

My goal with this post is to clear up at least some of the misinformation. The disease has already spread beyond any hope of cure, but maybe with this we can begin to appreciate the North Carolina Division of Child Development for trying to ensure that the children are fueled with nutrition. We know that school cafeteria food is often far from nutritious and healthy, but it seems to me that North Carolina is trying to fix that problem. I applaud them.

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