Lunch Inspector Rejects Healthy Meal

A mother is outraged that a lunch inspector reportedly rejected the lunch that she packed for her four year old daughter. Apparently, the school told the girl she couldn't eat her turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips and apple juice. Instead, the school "provided" the girl with a USDA-approved lunch which are in accordance with the following guidelines: one serving of meat, one serving of grains, and two servings of fruit or vegetables. And, get this, the lunch was replaced with chicken nuggets!

Wait, let's go over that again. Here is a mashup of the USDA's guidelines, with what the mother provided:

  1. meat: turkey
  2. grain: bread from sandwich
  3. fruit/veggie: banana or potato chips (if we follow the french fry logic)
  4. fruit/veggie: apple juice

When the girl returned home from school, her unopened lunch contained a note from the school saying that her lunch didn’t meet the guidelines. To add insult to injury, the lunch was also accompanied with a $1.25 bill for the school provided lunch.

The mom anonymously wrote to the local newspaper and called a state representative to express her outrage and justifiable frustration. It was the North Carolina representative that called the school, which apologized, after it realized that the lunch did in fact meet the guidelines.

USDA Lunch Guidelines

I've blogged about the obesity epidemic in children here, where I also referenced the fact that Congress, "reached a deal" regarding school lunches, which allows pizza sauce and french fries to be considered vegetables. The recently released USDA lunch requirements apparently had not been revised for some 15 years, despite the rising childhood obesity epidemic.

The guidelines have the following goals (you can find the text of the entire regulation here):

(i) Limit the percent of calories from total fat to 30 percent of the actual number of calories offered;
(ii) Limit the percent of calories from saturated fat to less than 10 percent of the actual number of calories offered;
(iii) Reduce sodium and cholesterol levels; and
(iv) Increase the level of dietary fiber.

These seem like simple goals, and yet, if you follow the link to the text of the guidelines, it is 71 pages long! I would never have imagined that school lunches would necessitate so much text. Most of it, perhaps unsurprisingly, contains information about what schools must do in order to be reimbursed by the government for their lunch programs. I had a difficult time navigating the USDA website,  in finding the document, and once I did find it, locating the information I was looking for. I'm still not certain I found exactly what I was looking for. My point is, it shouldn't come as a surprise that schools are grappling with figuring out how to enforce the standards.

While I'm sure the school at issue was probably just trying to do their job in encouraging healthy eating, a little common sense would probably have gone a long way here. The irony is that I completely support the movement towards healthier lunches. I have even been known to agree with some of Michelle Obama's proposals on the issue.

But this story crosses some sort of logical barrier. It's not just the fact that a perfectly good lunch was rejected, and at least part of it probably had to be thrown out, but the fact that there is someone called a lunch inspector just totally blows my mind. A person is getting paid to watch over children like a hawk and decide whether their lunch should be consumed, or if the child will be forced to purchase one provided by the school. Banning candy and soda is one thing, but I just can't comprehend a system like this.