Helen Whalen Cohen
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After determining that a preschooler's homemade lunch was not healthy enough, a state worker required her to purchase a meal from the school cafeteria. The result was that instead of eating a turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips and apple juice, the student ate three chicken nuggets for lunch. According to the Carolina Journal, the state employee (who inspects each students lunch box) determined that the meal packed from home did not meet USDA nutrition standards.

The girl's turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips, and apple juice did not meet U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, according to the interpretation of the agent who was inspecting all lunch boxes in her More at Four classroom that day. 

The Division of Child Development and Early Education at the Department of Health and Human Services requires all lunches served in pre-kindergarten programs - including in-home day care centers - to meet USDA guidelines. That means lunches must consist of one serving of meat, one serving of milk, one serving of grain, and two servings of fruit or vegetables, even if the lunches are brought from home. 

When home-packed lunches do not include all of the required items, child care providers must supplement them with the missing ones.

The girl's mother - who said she wishes to remain anonymous to protect her daughter from retaliation - said she received a note from the school stating that students who did not bring a "healthy lunch" would be offered the missing portions, which could result in a fee from the cafeteria, in her case $1.25. 

The story gets even stranger later. Although the HHS worker forced her to buy a school lunch because it did not meet nutrition standards, the mother later contacted the school, only to learn that the packed lunch did meet standards:

While the mother and grandmother thought the potato chips and lack of vegetable were what disqualified the lunch, a spokeswoman for the Division of Child Development said that should not have been a problem. 

"With a turkey sandwich, that covers your protein, your grain, and if it had cheese on it, that's the dairy," said Jani Kozlowski, the fiscal and statutory policy manager for the division. "It sounds like the lunch itself would've met all of the standard." The lunch has to include a fruit or vegetable, but not both, she said. 

There are no clear restrictions about what additional items - like potato chips - can be included in preschoolers' lunch boxes.

So what we have is a parent who packed her preschooler's lunch based on nutrition needs, but also on what she knew her daughter would eat. Then a government employee replaces it with a school meal because it is not nutritious enough, only for the student to gain even less nutrition and waste more food than if she had eaten the home packed lunch. It's almost like the government is trying to supplant parents duties and failing at it or something.

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Helen Whalen Cohen

Helen Whalen Cohen is Associate Editor and Community Manager at Townhall.com.