My four-year-old daughter Alana will be packing bread in her lunchbox tomorrow when she goes to preschool. No, we haven’t gone over to the dark side, and no, she didn’t ask for it. But she did bring home a note this afternoon that reads as follows:
Our STARS assessment is coming up. As you might recall, a Meals Guidelines paper was included in your packet of information at the beginning of this school year. Whether fairly or not, we are evaluated and rated on the lunches that you send in for your children.
Each child MUST have 3/4 cup of milk, whether they drink it or not.
Each child MUST have two servings of fruits or vegetables:
100% fruit juice counts as one serving
Fruit cup or applesauce counts as one serving
Raisins count as one IF they equal 1/2 cup
Potato chips don’t count (nor do other chips)
Salad with dressing works also – but remember the fork!
Each child MUST have one serving of grain or bread:
1/2 slice of bread
1/4 cup of dry cereal
1/4 cup of pasta, noodles or grain
Peanut butter crackers
Each child MUST have one serving of meat or meat alternative:
1 1/2 oz. of meat or poultry
1 1/2 oz. of cheese
3/4 egg or 3/8 cup of cooked dry beans or peas
3/4 oz. of nuts and/or seeds
6 oz. of yogurt
3 tablespoons of peanut butter or other nut or seed butter
For snack time, please pack components from two of the four categories.
Alana attends preschool at a Methodist church in downtown Franklin. It’s a private preschool, but evaluated by the state — which I’m guessing receives its marching orders from the federal government. Perhaps it’s part of the No Child Left Without Grain program, or the No Parent Trusted to Make Proper Dietary Decisions Act.
Either way, the evaluation process is simultaneously laughable and appalling. We’re actually going to have officials visiting the school to make sure every child is packing a government-approved lunch. Why? What is the rationale here? We’re not talking about a lunch prepared and served by the school; this is an evaluation of the lunches sent to school by parents. So apparently, the school is being judged on how well they’ve convined us to substitute the government’s dietary wisdom for our own.
That’s bad enough. But worse, I could ensure that my daughter passes inspection by spreading three tablespoons of peanut butter on a slice of white bread and adding a box of fruit juice and a half-cup of raisins. (Better not forget the milk, though.) Yup … I could make the state happy by giving Alana a lunch guaranteed to send her blood sugar on a roller-coaster ride.
Conversely, I could screw up the school’s rankings by packing a lunch I believe is good for her … say, some meat and cheese and nuts, but no bread or fruit juice — in other words, the kind of lunch she usually eats. I’m not comfortable having that kind of power. Skip the carbs entirely, and I may inadvertently shut down the whole school.
When I first read the guidelines — shortly after my wife finished shaking her head and handed them to me — I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if we sent Alana to school with a salad but no fork. I picture some state official realizing there’s no fork in the bag, then banging the heels of her boots together to spring a poison blade from one of the boot-tips and kicking a teacher while screaming, “Zere ees no fork vit dis salad! Zis child has no intention of eating her green leafy vegetables! You are attempting to circumvent zee guidelines!”
The groupings are simply laughable. How exactly did fruits and vegetables all get lumped together? Do the government nutrition nannys really believe celery and bananas provide anything close to the same nutrients and macronutrients? Celery is nearly all water and fiber. A medium banana, on the other hand, contains more than 100 calories, mostly from sugar.
Or let’s look at the “meat” group. Sliced turkey breast is nearly all protein. Cheese is mostly fat with some protein. Peas provide a little bit of protein but are mostly starch. The typical yogurt cups you’ll find in the grocery store are mostly sugar. Yet all them count as “meat” in the evaluation.
I’m tempted to send to her school with a couple of celery stalks, a quarter-cup of dried noodles, three-quarters of an egg and big thermos of chocolate milk, just to see what would happen. I’m even more tempted to write up a list of 95 reasons these nutrition guidelines are hogwash and nail the document to the church door.
But of course, the church is just doing what they’ve been ordered to do by the government nutrition nannys. So my wife will dutifully prepare Alana a lunchmeat sandwich and toss in the required fruits and vegetables, and the school will pass the all-important evaluation. And then Alana will go back to eating the kind of lunch she prefers, at least until the next evaluation day. I suspect the other parents will be doing the same.
Your tax dollars at work. Ain’t it a beautiful sight to see?