Government Knows Best

It takes a village to undermine parental rights

It’s hard to be a mom these days.  And I don’t mean that in a “Woe is me, my baby is crying and life is hard” sort of way; I mean that it is hard for parents to raise their children the way they want to, because certain parenting choices are increasingly forbidden.

State governments have an important but limited role to play in restricting parenting practices that put other children in danger; for instance, I think requiring vaccines as a condition of public school enrollment is acceptable.  But I have a big problem with the long arm of the law reaching into my children’s lunchboxes.

By now, we have probably all heard the story of the North Carolina 4-year-old whose packed lunch of turkey-and-cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips, and apple juice was confiscated for not meeting USDA nutritional guidelines.  The school gave her chicken nuggets instead and charged the mom for the meal. We may have heard of that Manitoba mom who sent her kids to school with a lunch of meat, potatoes, carrots, milk, and an orange.   The kids were “supplemented” with Ritz crackers (for their health!) and the mom was fined $10 for not including a grain.

Sure, those are totally egregious abuses of state power that don’t even serve the kids’ best interest.  But they must be exceptions, right?

Close to Home

My kids’ daycare costs an arm and 1 1/2 legs, because it’s a top-quality center and because we live in Minnesota, the second most expensive state in the union for child care.  You’d think, for what we pay, that the kids would be eating caviar and lobster.  But actually, they get Goldfish crackers, waffles with syrup, low-fat frozen yogurt with Cool Whip, low-fat strawberry yogurt, and dinner rolls.  It’s a nightmare for a paleo mom like me, who would rather her children not eat processed foods, sugar, corn syrup, white flour, low-fat anything, artificial dyes or trans fats.

Taking Action

Increasingly frustrated with the poor nutritional quality of the food at daycare, I met with my center director to see what improvements were in my power to make.  She informed me that healthy food is not always available from their supplier.  So now we bring in plain, full-fat yogurt on days they serve the fluorescent, sugary, low-fat stuff; and we bring in plain applesauce or whole fruit on days when they serve fruit cups in syrup.  We asked daycare not to serve our child maple-flavored high-fructose corn syrup on her waffles and pancakes—although when that didn’t go over well with our toddler, we relented and started bringing in small portions of real maple syrup so she could be like her friends.

So far so good–I can bring in healthier replacements for the foods daycare serves that I’m ok with my kids eating.  But what about the foods for which there simply are no substitutes worth the effort?

The Leviathan vs. the [baby] Lyceum 

In Minnesota, the government requires all day care centers to follow the USDA Child Meal Pattern.  According to this monstrosity, a breakfast of scrambled eggs and whole milk (which I serve basically every weekend) is not suitable for children.  The Child Meal Pattern allows for no protein at breakfast, and milk must be 1% or skim.  Never mind that the latest research shows that spreading protein equally across all three meals is better for us, and that reduced-fat milk is actually correlated with a higher risk of obesity compared to whole milk.

Don’t tell the USDA, but I often feed my toddler eggs, nuts, or bananas before school so she is less hungry for the blueberry-flavored cupcakes (really, what’s the difference between a cupcake and a muffin other than frosting?) they serve, in full compliance with USDA policy.

Crowding Out Parents 

This is the part that grinds my gears.  I can’t try to persuade daycare to serve more eggs and less waffles, because the government literally does not permit them to make that choice!  Daycare is not legally able to be responsive to the needs and desires of the families they serve because the USDA has overruled them and imposed dietary requirements that are not based on science and probably harmful.

I called my state CACFP rep (you can too!) –and asked her whether I had any recourse to opt out of the USDA mandates.  She shut that right down, but told me that 2014 is a “year of opportunity,” because the recent school lunch changes that went into effect (the wildly  unpopular, optimistically named “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act”) did not affect daycares.  I had the opportunity to influence the new rule-making by submitting a comment!

This is what came out of that public discussion period.  A laundry list of concerns: food-related cultural sensitivities, too much meat, too much fat, too much grain, too expensive…

We all know what’s going to happen.  There will be no substantial changes, evidence be damned.  It’s just such a shame, because there was such an easy way to satisfy everyone who participated in the public commenting: Let there be vegan daycares, and paleo daycares, and USDA-compliant daycares, and non-GMO daycares, and cruelty-free daycares, and whole-grain daycares, and all-potato daycares!  Let local groups be responsive to their communities’ own nutritional preferences.  Let moms–not the government–decide how their daycares should be allowed to feed their children.

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