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Friday, May 11, 2012

State nutrition regulations are out of control

Photo: Jason Antony.
Yet another article is circulating on how public schools are banning bake sales during school hours and even birthday treats because of nutrition concerns. This comes on the heels of an alarming story of a preschooler who, when confronted by state health officials about the contents of her lunch - turkey sandwich, banana, apple juice and potato chips - was offered another alternative instead: chicken nuggets.

On what planet are chicken nuggets healthy? (unless you make them yourself) I'm sure food service outlets who provide this stuff to schools aren't using all natural, vegan ingredients. Heck, they might not even be using real chicken for all we know. And the school thinks her turkey sandwich is a threat? I'm guessing they took one look at the potato chips and that was the end of it.

And now, in the same school, a second mom has come forward to say that her four-year-old was also approached by officials because of her cheese and salami sandwich - on wheat! - with apple juice. She was sent to the cafeteria and given the ubiquitous chicken nuggets again.

I'm not sure which is more alarming: that health officials think chicken nuggets are an acceptable alternative, or that they take such a stance on the matter to the point of overriding a parent's authority. It's becoming an alarming trend in schools - we've been hearing more stories about California schools introducing "age-appropriate" sex education to students regardless of the parent's objections, and vaccinating kids without parental consent. There is a growing presence in the private lives of families by school entities who say they have your child's best interests at heart - but are they taking it too far?

In cases of true neglect, I would hope someone would intervene. Moldy sandwiches (or no lunch at all), bruises and other forms of negligent parenting should raise flags with school officials. But I think this is going to extremes, and makes you wonder what kinds of guidelines the state uses to determine what's healthy and what isn't.

And now on to the birthday treats - this one is kind of sad. Right up there with "holiday" celebrations instead of "Christmas," it sounds like they're trying to take every last ounce of fun out of elementary school and turn it into some kind of boot camp.

Thankfully my son's school hasn't gone this far yet, and I would argue that for the most part parents can exercise common sense in this department. It's hard, though, when so many kids have peanut allergies - peanut products are banned in the classroom because they have snack there, but allergic kids are at their own lunchtime table, which makes things a bit easier. It's also hard, though, when one kid will eat something and the other won't, and you begin to run out of healthy ideas after awhile that comply with everyone's needs. If the state were coming in to complain I'm not sure what I'd do - tell them to do the grocery shopping, maybe...

Although I will say this: because my children's school doesn't have regular cafeteria staff, they serve a "hot lunch" to the kids once a month - with parent volunteers making and serving the food. The person that coordinates the menu does a great job, but when it comes to the dessert portion that parents bring in themselves, it's pretty disgusting. Again, it's hard to find something that is reasonable and yet something they will actually eat - my banana muffins usually go untouched, I'm sure. But cupcakes laden with frosting three inches high is not my idea of healthy. On one hand, you have to let them have their fun, and figure it's one cupcake - it won't kill them. If they eat like that all the time at home, though, that's their business - what are you going to do about it? Surely the school could make suggestions and guidelines - reasonable ones - that help everyone without making it sound like the Food Police is going to show up and arrest you.

One friend has said her daughter's school has already banned birthday treats in favor of toys - which could get ridiculously expensive depending on how many kids are in your child's class. In order to cut costs, the Dollar Store is a great option - for cheap, frustrating toys that break before the bell rings and thus are a complete waste of money. Wonderful - more crap they don't need that breaks easily. I'd rather they have the cupcake!

What next? Will they decide you're an unfit parent because of the lunch you pack, following you home and inspecting your residence? What if you refuse vaccines - will they report you to CPS? You may think home schooling is an option, which many people do in response to things like this - but what if it no longer is? In a handful of countries around the globe, homeschooling is illegal - with "rare exceptions." Can you see how we could be heading down a slippery slope? Are we simply going where they've already been?

Some parents don't know any better - some don't care, and some think that in moderation, it's perfectly acceptable. And it's hard to know what to buy when things that are labeled "healthy" and "natural" are anything but. What do you do?

Another scary trend is to ban recess - which sounds unreal to me. Trapped in a classroom all day, with no chance for exercise - even adult employees are entitled to two 15-minute breaks during the day, depending on the length of their shift. Why not kids? Do we really expect them to sit quietly all day and diligently perform with no breaks, just so we can improve test scores? Or because we're afraid of lawsuits when kids get hurt on the playground?
Running at recess was banned last year in Broward County, Fla. In October, officials at an elementary school south of Boston banned tag and touch football. Elementary schools in Cheyenne, Wyo., and Spokane banned tag during recess. And this past summer, Portland public schools eliminated swings from their playgrounds, along with merry-go-rounds, tube slides, track rides, arch climbers and teeter-totters.
How else are you going to work off all those chicken nuggets the school is serving?


TracyKM said...

In Ontario, the gov't has made strict food regulations for schools. Elementary schools here don't have cafeteria service, but it also applies to vending machines and food brought into the school by the SCC ("School Community Council"---a requirement in every school, they are responsible for all fundraising for things like playground equipment, fun days, extra technology, etc). So, pizza day (once a month) means multi-grain crust and low fat cheese. Now, I eat low-carb/high fat. I've also just read "Wheat Belly" and would love to do away with wheat for my kids. But try to pack a lunch box with non-nut, high protein, non-fruit foods? DIFFICULT!

Kendra said...

When my daughter was in preschool breakfast was served in the classroom. Now, my daughter is severly allergic to milk and peanuts. An epi-pen is her constant companion. And she is mildly allergic to wheat and eggs. So I would feed her a very healthy breakfast at home. One day she stopped eating at home and waiting for school breakfast. and what did she ahve at school? SUper donuts, syrup injected waffles, fruit loops cereal get the idea. Nothing that would normally evern enter my home. I talked to the teacher abnout not offering her the breakfast. I took snacks she could have since sharing a meal was part of their learning cirriculum. but I finally had to go th the school board with threats to make them stop feeding my child junk food.
Lunch was a different drama. The school had a majority of students eligible for free or reduced price lunches so it had a federal subsidy to provide free lunches for all enrolled students. As a result, my kids were the only children packing their lunches. ( until i was talking with a few other moms and suddenly there were several kiddos with packed lunch)Since no other children were packing at this time, they would often forget to let me kids go to the coat closet to get the lunch box. A full packed lunch would come home 2-3 days a week for my 1st grader son.
Alas, the next year the economy tanked, 2008, and the subsidy ended and now about half of the kids at that school (which my kids no longer attend) pack their lunches.