RALEIGH – A bill to counter “the overreaching arm of government” when it comes to policing preschool lunch boxes has made it out of a Senate committee and could be up for a floor vote by Wednesday.
The measure, dubbed the “chicken nugget” bill, would exempt lunches packed at home by parents from child nutrition guidelines and prevent pre-kindergarten and child care officials from substituting school-provided meals for food brought from home.
“This is the overreaching arm of government again trying to tell parents what’s best for them,” Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, told the Senate Education/Higher Education Committee on Tuesday.
The overreach Tillman was referring to occurred back in January at a Hoke County pre-kindergarten center. As first reported in Carolina Journal, a youngster brought a bag lunch to school that didn’t meet nutritional standards.
It consisted of a turkey-and-cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips, and apple juice. It didn’t include fluid milk, which is required to meet U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrition guidelines.
Instead of being offered the missing milk required by USDA and state nutritional guidelines, the youngster was offered a cafeteria tray, from which she ate three chicken nuggets. Her bag lunch was brought home untouched, her family members say. The girl is a picky eater. Everything else on the cafeteria tray went to waste.
The proposed chicken nugget bill would still allow nutritional guidelines to be in place for meals served by early education centers. However, it would allow parents or guardians to opt out of any supplemental food program provided by the facility.
Earlier in May, the N.C. Child Care Commission adopted nutritional rules that encouraged centers to respect “familial preferences,” said Brad Deen, a spokesman for the commission. However, he noted that the rules didn’t go as far as the proposed legislation did in terms of exempting lunches brought from home from the rules.
Deen also noted that current law requires the commission to adopt nutritional guidelines for all children.
Opponents of the proposed chicken nugget bill characterized it as a step backward in the fight against obesity.
“I think this is one bad step,” said Sen. William Purcell, D-Scotland, noting that the nutritional guidelines sought to battle childhood obesity.
“I’m just frankly disappointed,” said Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake.
Sen. Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe, said that the incident prompting the proposed new law was “a minor problem” that got straightened out later.
Tillman said the bill is about giving parents more control over what their children eat. “Who’s going to tell your kid what to eat and what not to eat, and what’s nutritious and what’s not nutritious?” he asked.
Barry Smith is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.