This is one of those stories you skim, and even at first glance find yourself asking, “What the . . . ?”
Then, you read it more closely and you finish that phrase in all its four-letter glory.
Here the summary of what is an unbelievably dumb, misguided, ignorant and ridiculously nonsensical decision regarding child nutrition and the consumption of meat.
About the only redeeming aspect of the story is that it took place in Canada.
It seems that Kristen Bartkiw, a mom in Rossburn, Manitoba, a town of 550 brave souls, packed her kids’ lunch for their stay at a daycare center with roast beef, potatoes and carrots, plus a cup of milk and an orange for dessert.
Nicely balanced, full of healthy protein, and both fruit and vegetables, right?
According to a story in The National Post newspaper, her two children Logan and Natalie came home with what was called “the lunch police equivalent of a speeding ticket: A Lunchbox Supplement Note,” The Post reported. The noted reprimanded Ms. Bartkiw for failing to include a grain serving in the lunches.
But here’s the best part: According to the newspaper account, Bartkiw was charged $10—$5 for each child—because the daycare had to feed her kids Ritz crackers to make up for the “oversight.”
“It was frustrating,” Bartkiw told the newspaper. “I actually phoned the daycare and asked, ‘Really? Am I actually getting charged for this?’ ”
The answer was: Yes—at least initially, because according to Canada’s latest guidelines for children’s lunches, potatoes do not qualify as a grain, although Ritz crackers apparently do.
Schools losing focus
Leaving aside the $5-a-serving outrage, the problem here is one that is hardly confined to Canada. As schools and daycare centers have increasingly focused on health and nutrition, parents sometimes discover that their personal ideas of “good nutrition” clash with government regulations.
The trend is consistent with a movement toward “big brothering lunches,” Sylvain Charlebois, a professor of food distribution and policy at Ontario’s University of Guelph’s College of Management and Economics, told The Post. “Schools have become better risk mitigators [noting peanut allergies as an example], but as a result, the mandate has expanded,” he said. “We’re looking at health, we’re looking at safety, quality of life, sustainability. It’s going beyond trying to make sure people survive lunch hour.”
Ironically, Bartkiw was on the board of directors at Little Cub’s Den, the daycare center her children attend and helped develop the policy authorizing fines when parents failed to meet provincially mandated nutritional guidelines that recommend serving all of the four food groups—including grains—at meals.
But Bartkiw refused to blame the daycare, saying she’s more concerned with the provincial directive to follow Canada’s Food Guide. She contacted Yoni Freedhoff, a professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa and medical director of the Bariatric Medical Institute. He runs the “Weighty Matters” blog, which exposes the marketing aimed at getting kids to demand all kinds of processed foods, the biggest contributor to obesity. He posted the story of Bartkiw’s fine and it quickly went viral.
According to the story, Freedhoff has been a vocal critic of Canada’s Food Guide, which he labeled “a non-evidenced based document” that daycare centers shouldn’t be encouraged to obey.
“Instead, we download [the responsibility] on parents and suggest that this is all up to [them] to fight this awful world we live in,” he told the newspaper. “And yet here we are, basically serving garbage to kids and suggesting that we are doing better than you are.”
Here’s the happy ending to this tale. Manitoba government officials announced that all licensed daycares had been instructed not to take the Canada’s Food Guide so literally—as long as children are getting healthful, balanced foods, that is enough, they said.
“Charging for Ritz crackers is ridiculous and unacceptable,” spokesperson Rachel Morgan told The Post.
Little Cub’s Den has now shifted to a hot meal program that parents are funding, and Bartkiw said she approves of it.
Best of all: She didn’t have to pay the fine.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.