To 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