North Carolina parents poised to regain control of kids’ school lunches

Meagan Clark Contributor
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The “chicken nugget” bill was passed unanimously by the North Carolina Senate Thursday and will likely sail through the state House in a bid to return to parents the authority to pack their children’s lunch boxes with whatever food they choose.

The story of a four-year-old given school cafeteria chicken nuggets instead of her homemade turkey sandwich brought national attention earlier this year to a law that let nutrition guidelines undermine parents’ preferences.

The North Carolina Child Care Commission ruled in September that child care facilities must provide lunches that adhere to U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, evaluate the nutrition of homemade lunches and supplement them when needed with cafeteria food. 

The USDA recommends that children eat one serving of milk, meat and grain and two servings of fruit or vegetables every day.

North Carolina’s House Education and Higher Education Committee proposed the amended “chicken nugget” bill Tuesday. The bill will allow parents to pack lunches for their pre-K children that may not adhere to USDA guidelines.

“The contents of children’s lunch boxes should be decided by their parents and guardians, not by government bureaucrats,” Republican state Sen. Phil Berger said in a written statement. “While nutrition is very important, we need to make sure our child care providers focus on preparing children for school rather than on inspecting lunches.”

The bill also prohibits state agencies from inspecting homemade lunches, thereby preventing the state from penalizing child care facilities for parents’ choices.

The law previously allowed exemptions for ethnic, religious or cultural reasons, but not for personal preference.

In January a state official visiting an elementary school declared a homemade lunch including a turkey and cheese sandwich, a banana, potato chips and apple juice to be deficient. This prompted a pre-K teacher to give the child a cafeteria lunch that included a vegetable and milk. The four-year-old only ate three chicken nuggets.

Under the proposed legislation, the children of parents who opt out of the supplemental food program will not receive any food or beverages from their child care facility.

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