The Bag Lunch Ban

brown bag lunch on desk with apple

How Updates to Government Regulations Ultimately Resulted in School Bans on Lunches From Home Without a Doctor’s Note

Have parents lost control of their children’s nutritional health? How can parents continue managing their kids’ food allergies if they do not have control over what their kids eat at school? Food related medical issues, including food allergies, affect more children each year. A claim that the government is interfering with parents’ control over what their kids eat is disturbing. It’s outrageous enough to call for investigation. A little research revealed some interesting information.

National Child Nutrition Programs

Since 1969, the United States Federal Government has managed the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). The Child Care component of CAFP focuses on providing healthy foods in order to prevent hunger and obesity in children under the age of 13, children enrolled in after-school extended care centers, and at-risk students under age 19. In 2010, CACFP expanded to include more students than initially identified. New initiatives, like “Healthier School Day,” partners schools with parents to introduce kids to food and nutrition in fun interactive ways. “Farm to School” encourages participating schools to purchase cafeteria food from local farms, take field trips to farms and teach kids about seasonal food.

Program changes do not place limits on food. After all, the government expressing interest in our children’s health and wellbeing is not a bad thing. So, how did this collaborative program ultimately sidestep parents? It seems some schools chose to implement new USDA standards for all food sold in schools in a questionable manner.

No Bag Lunch Without Doctor’s Note

Maybe you’ve seen headlines announcing the government’s interference with parents’ decisions about what their kids eat. In several states, schools reportedly sent letters to parents banning lunches from home. One letter stated, in part, per “Federal Programs … students can only bring lunches from home if there is a medical condition requiring a specific diet, along with a physician’s note to that regard.”Other letters required lunches from home meet mandated guidelines, referencing regulations created by theFlorida Department of Children and Families (DCF). Reports claimed that home packed lunches failed inspections because many were filled with sugary snacks and lacked basic ingredients for a nutritious meal. But why were parents required to defend meal choices? And did mild food allergies not formally diagnosed also warrant a doctor’s note?

Federal Regulations Do Not Apply to Parents

Reports omitted that CACFP guideline changes applied only to childcare providers, schools and similar facilities, not parents. While the Florida DCF requires all kids receive nutritionally balanced meals, according to federal guidelines, they do not prohibit food from home. No limitations on homemade foods exist in USDA or the State of Florida regulations. In fact, USDA regulations expressly state the opposite; the program is not intended to apply to packaged products from home for personal consumption. The USDA also recognizes personal diet choices, offering alternatives.

Program guidelines ensure cultural, religious, medical and individual nutritional needs are addressed. They do not stop you from feeding your child healthy homemade foods or even the occasional not-so-nutritionally-sound snack. They do prohibit facilities from feeding children food-like items, which contain little nutritional value and have been linked to health issues like obesity and diabetes. Bottom line: federal regulations do not apply to food you prepare for your child.

School Policies Gone Awry

Still, some providers have taken more control than given, monitoring and ultimately prohibiting what they consider unhealthy lunches from home. However, these are school policies not government mandates.

What is prompting this behavior? Facilities participating in nutritional programs receive reimbursements for each healthy meal provided. Meals disallowed through CACFP are not prohibited; they simply are not reimbursed. How do facilities ensure full reimbursement? They do not allow food from home.

So, does the government prohibit your child from bringing a bag lunch to school? No. Might your child’s day care, school or after-school program prohibit the same? Maybe.

To find out if these changes may affect you, talk with your child’s provider or school.


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