The Blaze confirms that federal directives mandate the contents of sack lunches at West Hoke Elementary

A Commentary

Timothy Kincaid

February 17th, 2012

The Blaze, a conservative news site created by Glenn Beck, is reporting that a second mother at West Hoke Elementary is claiming that due to government inspection, the a cheese and salami sandwich on a wheat bun with apple juice she sent to school with her daughter was replaced with chicken nuggets, a sweet potato, bread and milk.

Diane Zambrano says her 4-year-old daughter, Jazlyn, is in the same West Hoke Elementary School class as the little girl whose lunch gained national attention earlier this week. When Zambrano picked Jazlyn up from school late last month, she was told by Jazlyn’s teacher that the lunch she had packed that day did not meet the necessary guidelines and that Jazlyn had been sent to the cafeteria.

When Jazlyn said she didn’t eat what her mother had made her, Zambrano went to her teacher and demanded to know what happened. She said the teacher told her an official had come through that day to inspect students’ lunches and that those who were lacking certain food groups were sent to the cafeteria. After she received her cafeteria food, the teacher told Zambrano, Jazlyn was told to put her homemade lunch back in her lunchbox and set it on the floor.

Zambrano said the teacher told her it was not the first time student lunches have been inspected, and that officials come “every so often.”

As this is a ideology driven publication, one must be mindful to separate fact from opinion or spin. One must not, however, dismiss the facts because they don’t like the source. In addition to the woman’s story, The Blaze published a memo that appears to verify that home prepared school lunches are being subjected to state-agency inspection and that the school determines what parent-provided lunches are acceptable based on federal government directives.

It would appear that:

  • In North Carolina, the contents of home prepared lunches are part of the consideration in maintaining a state license.
  • Lunches prepared by parents must (the school’s word) comply with USDA Meal Guidelines and contain one serving of milk, two servings of fruit or vegetables, one serving of grain, and one serving of meat or meat substitute.
  • If a home prepared lunch does not include “the correct selection of food”, students will be “offered the missing portions which may result in a fee from the cafeteria.”

There has not, to my knowledge, been any dispute about whether the West Hoke Elementary cafeteria provides lunches in which chicken nuggets are featured. It has also been asserted that their items also include tater tots, fried foods, pizza, and donuts. While this has not been specifically confirmed for West Hoke, these additional items would not be out of the ordinary for American schools.

Other details in the story have been investigated by McClatchy News Service (Sacramento Bee, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, etc.), a newspaper group which was lauded for journalistic independence due to investigating and publishing the perspectives of dissidents and doubters in the buildup to the Iraq war.

An agent from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Child Development and Early Education was at the school Jan. 30 assessing the pre-kindergarten program, said Bob Barnes, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for Hoke County schools.

The agent examined the lunches for the six students in the class and believed one did not meet nutritional requirements spelled out by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Barnes said.

This appears to be in conflict with the North Carolina Health and Human Resources letter stating that it is not DHHS’s policy to inspect, go through or question any child about food items brought from home” and that “no DHHS employee or contractor did this.”

But whether or not DHHS employees did or did not personally go through the sack lunches of children is, to me, not the most important element of this story. What bothers me is the following:

  • the federal government has established guidelines which are being applied far beyond any funded federal program and which are being used to dictate to parents what they must feed their children.
  • schools are punished or rewarded based on parental compliance to a component and quantity tick-list which seems to have no measurement of the quality or nutritional value of foods or make provisions for specific individual needs.
  • agents visit schools to, at least in part, make certain that they comply with the tick-list.
  • this state enforced federal mandate has resulted in reported incidents in which the nutritional quality of food consumed by some children was significantly diminished.

And perhaps most disturbing about the whole situation is the unquestioned assumption that meeting federal guidelines is a goal worth achieving. Says who?

Because the federal government declares that a lunch must contain a specific list of elements, it is presumed that this list was prepared in an unbiased, child-focused, fair manner and that the policy was prepared while respecting parents rights and the needs of individuals, and prioritizing health. Further, it is taken for granted that the implementation of the policy is not impacted by corporate food conglomerates, food preparer unions, commodities lobbyists, financial pressures, or bureaucratic mindset.

Now I don’t dispute that a diet needs to be rounded and nutritionally based. And I have respect for dietitians and good-food advocates. While I find his approach a bit too skewed for television entertainment, I have great respect for what Jamie Oliver is trying to do.

But West Hoke is feeding children chicken nuggets.

I don’t know what brand of nuggets the children are receiving. Some use whole breast chicken, some use a paste made of left-over parts and fillers, and the former are far more expensive than the latter. But none of them can be considered a good choice for nutrition.

For example, Tyson Chicken Nuggets, a premier brand that features 100% chicken, provides in an adult size portion (five) which contains 290 calories (200 from fat), 22 grams of fat, 600 milligrams of sodium, but only 11 grams of protein. Thus the “protein” component of the USDA approved diet would provide on its own 34% of an adult’s recommended daily fat, 25% of recommended sodium, but only 22% of daily recommended protein and that’s the reason it’s on the plate.

But somehow this fits the USDA mandate of “lean meat, poultry, or fish without bone” and that makes it okay.

Some of my outrage is worldview. I resist governmental intervention, mandates, directives, and lists. I can’t think of many examples in which involvement with the government has personally been a rewarding experience.

But I recognize the necessity for some uniformity, rules, and bureaucracy. I don’t know how giving out $88 parking tickets for an expired meter in a row of empty spaces improves anyone’s life, but I live with it as a part of having stability and in avoiding chaos on the roads. I’m not sure why my postal delivery guy hasn’t figured out yet the concept that my mail should be put in my mailbox even if the sender leaves off the last digit, but I can just have everything sent electronically and I’m sure that the postal service is providing a livelihood to someone who is otherwise unemployable.

But not everyone is like me or shares my perspective. Some enjoy the comfort of knowing that someone is watching out for the children. There are bad guys out there and even simple ignorance and laziness can do harm. A government that monitors the actions of its citizens can provide ease of mind to those who believe that well administered programs care and provide for those who would be left helpless without a strong and vibrant centralized and regulated society.

So, in recognition of diverse views, I’ll concede that perhaps a case could be made that there are times when in the interest of protecting the next generation some agent of government – one which is subject to public questioning and election repercussions – should step in to ensure that children are receiving healthy food.

But he best not be serving chicken nuggets or have donut crumbs on his tie.

Jim Burroway

February 17th, 2012

While you are worried about Glenn Beck’s obsession about a child’s chicken nuggets, I’m having trouble keeping up with the news that a GOP governor has vetoed marriage equality in one state while the Maryland lower house has passed marriage equality and the Obama administration has announced that they are not going to defend a lawsuit filed on behalf of gay military personnel over inequality in benefits.

Timothy Kincaid

February 17th, 2012

Well good, then between us we have it all covered.


February 17th, 2012

Thank you Jim for covering stories that are important and pertinent to your readers instead of writing extremely long posts regurgitating exaggerated outrage stories from Glenn Beck and other wing-nut sources and then getting snippy with readers aren’t likewise outraged.


February 17th, 2012

You know, if this stuff is in fact true, I’m not just going to ignore it, even though I know there are bigger fish to fry. I agree with Timothy’s view on this. Schools should not be telling parents how to feed their kids, especially when the money the parents didn’t send to school with the child to pay for cafeteria food has to come from somewhere. And school cafeteria food is still awful despite all the recent discussion about nutrition.


February 17th, 2012

Sometimes, even Glenn Beck can have a valid point, even though we all know he often brings those points to light for the wrong reasons.


February 17th, 2012

The last article atleast tried to tie the subject to gay issues by claiming laws denying LBGT people equal rights and laws mandating what public school children eat were based on ‘the same mindset’.

As far as I can tell this article has no connection whatsoever to any LBGT related issue or story. It’s just bragging about being proven right.

Andrew M.

February 17th, 2012

So I get that the idea of the government not interfering in our lives favors civil equality. I totes do….

But I just can’t give a crap about this.

In general, any large scale overarching philosophy doesn’t work for all situations. So when things are sufficiently different I personally feel its best to judge them as separate issues.

I feel the denial of civil rights to millions of humans can and should be argued without the need of involving whether or not Peggy Sue was forced to eat chicken mcnuggets one day during lunch. Indeed, ___ Peggy Sue. And ____ her chicken mcnuggets.

I often think that the world could use a bit more outrage. But let’s not lose sight of the forest for the trees here Tim. There are bigger fish to fry. And then force people to eat.


February 17th, 2012

I agree with this program, all of it. This program is for children who are living in poverty and are at risk of being poorly nourished. I agree that teachers should be obligated to check for proper nutrition with what the parents are sending to school. The program says if a food area is missing (like say protein) that the teacher is to provide it from the schools food service. I will wager that most children living in poverty do not get enough fruits and vegetables.

I do not see why everybodys undies are in a bundi over a teacher adding fruit to a child’s lunch when the parents didn’t include fruit in the brown bag lunch. Do parents have a “right” to malnourish their children?

I think this will be my last comment. My daughter taught in a school where all the families lived in abject poverty. Don’t kid yourselves, most of those children are poorly provided for nutritionally by their parents. I am a practical person, it is not about theory and “rights,” these rules help children and I am all for them.


February 17th, 2012

I don’t believe that an arch conservative media outlet publishing an anecdote from someone counts as “confirmation”. In fact, the same people who cried foul when Mrs. Obama started her (what should’ve been) utterly controversy-free campaign to encourage people to eat better cannot be trusted on this issue in any way.
*However*, there’s certainly enough evidence to suggest the Feds are involved in this, and I agree that they’re overstepping. There’s no reason that the schools themselves or the state can’t provide extra food for students who aren’t getting everything they need from home. This is like a parody of liberalism at its most annoying and Big Brother-ish. And as a liberal, it embarrasses me almost as much as those PETA people.


February 18th, 2012

The government can go to hell. It sure as hell doesn’t get involved when the homeless are freezing to death in the streets — it doesn’t get involved when gay youth is carted to off-shore torture camps posing as “discipline insitutions”. It’s cut down on providing for those with HIV, essentially sentencing them to death.

But a child eats lunch that for generations has functioned just as well for the productive parents, and suddenly they see themselves fit to judge? Go to hell.

Penn & Teller did a bit on “junk food” and how it’s pretty much an unnecessary stigma. Families that are shown in good shape, and they eat fast food — because it is affordable and fits the schedule of a household where both parents need to work all day to break even.

“Healthy Eating” is the new fashion industry. Make up an issue and convince any moron that they need to address this made-up problem to be worthy, of course by buying products. How American, buy your way out of fabricated defects.

Jim Treacher

February 18th, 2012

The Internet is for telling other people what they shouldn’t be talking about.


February 18th, 2012

Lucrece—WHAT?! Unhealthy eating is a “fabricated problem”? Seriously?! Even the most cursory google search or, you know, ability to see past the end of our fat noses puts to shame the absurdity of that statement. We’re fat. Effing fat. And getting fatter by the year.


February 18th, 2012

Who says these kids are not getting adequate nutrition because the lunch they bring from home does not meet all the food groups? Perhaps they drink a gallon of milk a day at home. I can understand the concern with the current concern about childhood nutrition and that many kids may not get enough healthy food at home. But sending in the food police is not the answer.


February 18th, 2012

I agree that what is in one meal a day — a brown bag lunch, no less — is not necessarily indicative of a child’s entire diet. Two of my three kids won’t eat the cafeteria food because it’s “gross,” and they don’t like very many brown-bag items. Either way, they’re lunches aren’t all that healthy. Not awful, but not great. But they eat very good dinners.

The teacher who dared to tell my kids what they could and could not eat for lunch got an earful from me, and when she did it again, the principal got an earful, too. It stopped after that.

Also, I wonder how a Vegan family would feel about this. Are their kids *required* to have milk? This is a bad, bad, bad idea. Regulate what the school serves, fine. But don’t you dare tell parents what they can and cannot feed their children from home.

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