Deep inside the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Division of Child Development Child Care Center Handbook (NCDHHSDCDCCCH from now on), in a chapter titled “Nutrition”, lives Rule .0901 that reads as follows:
When children bring their own food for meals or snacks to the center, if the food does not meet the nutritional requirements outlined in the Meal Patterns for Children in Child Care, the center must provide additional food necessary to meet those requirements.
The story of a 4-year-old North Carolina preschooler who had her lunch rejected by NCHHS and was forced to eat chicken nuggets thanks to rule .0901 has created a serious stir around the internet and has made its way into the hyperbolic arena of conservative talk radio.
An overreach of government, yeah? Outrageous, yeah?
First, a full explanation.
In North Carolina the establishment of “child care centers”, defined by the state Health and Human Services Department as “an arrangement where, at any one time, there are three or more preschool-age children or nine or more school-age children receiving care”, is governed by the set of guidelines mentioned above, the NCDHHSDCDCCCH. These rules serve to ensure that anyone operating an organization like a pre-school or day care center provides adequate conditions for the children. One rule states that in order to meet minimum nutritional guidelines, a child’s lunch must consist of at least four components:
- 2 or more fruits or vegetables
- meat or meat alternative
- bread or bread alternative
So one day a few weeks back a little pre-school girl arrives at West Hoke Elementary School, lunch in hand.
(It must be noted that pre-school classes are regulated as child care centers, not public schools. Therefore, the actual West Hoke Elementary School students are not subject to the same nutritional regulations.)
Flash forward to lunchtime. The child skips merrily (I presume) to the cafeteria. Her mother has packed the following:
- 1 turkey and cheese sandwich
- a banana
- potato chips
- apple juice
According to the NCDHHSDCDCCCH, potato chips and fruit juices that are not 100% juice do not qualify as nutritional in any way. This meal, it seems, was a real close call. On any given day, it would have been just fine.
But this was not any given day. On this particular day, a state inspector was there to verify that every child’s nutritional requirements were indeed being met. A very infrequent occurrence, one would have to believe.
The inspector deemed the little girl’s lunch to be unsatisfactory (close as it may have been to acceptability). What happened next caused Rush Limbaugh to label the inspector and the people behind the nutritional requirements, “food Nazis“.
The little girl was required to get a school lunch (the main course of which was chicken nuggets) to supplement her lunch from home. That’s all. Her sandwich and chips weren’t confiscated, her parents weren’t even arrested.
In fact, nobody was really hurt by this at all (save for the little girl who was likely upset at the disrespectful treatment of her lunch).
The nutritional requirements here exist to ensure that somebody who starts a day care, for example, adequately provides for every kid that comes in the door, regardless of what he or she brings from home, or is capable of bringing from home. The establishment of a minimum standard is to be expected.
This is not a big-government conspiracy to tell our children what they can and cannot eat, nor is it an example of government overreach to have such laws as these in place.
The inspector probably should have let this one lunch slide, but in a way it’s good to know that the standards are taken seriously.
So in conclusion… the government made a little girl eat chicken nuggets because Michele Obama thinks her mom is too stupid to pack a decent lunch.