Jeff Carreira has a picky eater on his hands. While he and his wife do their best to ensure a balanced diet for their 4-year-old, like many a parent, they’re just glad when she eats something.
That’s why Carreira usually packs lunches for Abigail. But the Florida father recently learned that his homemade lunches would no longer be allowed by Kids ‘R’ Kids in Clermont where Abigail attends pre-kindergarten.
Be it spaghetti, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or chicken noodle soup, Carreira said they try to mix up what they provide Abigail for lunch.
Still, “she’s not really into fruits and veggies right now, so we do the best we can. She’s a very picky eater,” the father of two said.
A letter sent home to parents from the facility’s owners — Kids ‘R’ Kids is a franchise child care facility that provides educational opportunities as well — on April 24 stated that due to its participation in the federally funded Child Care Food Program, packed lunches would no longer be in compliance with guidelines unless to accommodate an allergy or religious restriction.
“During a recent inspection, it was noted that 56 children had lunches prepared at home,” the letter read. “In most cases, the lunch boxes contained only snacks and did not include the minimum required food groups for nutritious meals.”
The letter cited requirements set by the Florida Department of Children and Families that required “facility AND meals brought from home” to meet specific nutrition guidelines, including having all food groups on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s My Plate.
“We took it as our lunches didn’t qualify … and we and all parents would not be able to provide lunches for our children,” Carreira said.
So all last week, Carreira and his wife didn’t send Abigail in with a lunch. He said he would go to the facility about 15 minutes before picking his daughter up at noon and watched her at lunch time. She didn’t eat the food provided by Kids ‘R’ Kids.
“We’re fortunate to pick her up at noon,” Carreira said, noting that he can still feed lunch to Abigail outside of school. “But there’s some kids there who go all day.”
After WOFL-TV dug deeper into the packed lunch ban, it found out that the state’s Department of Children and Families did conduct a routine inspection of lunches in April, but it didn’t note any issues in the meals brought by parents.
Kristi Gray, a spokeswoman for the DCF, told WOFL that nutrition of homemade lunches isn’t something it considers in its inspections.
“The agency requires that when facilities provide lunches to children that they are nutritionally balanced,” Gray said in an email. “This agency does not require that facilities provide oversight of what parents pack for their children to eat. There would not be fines or citations issued as a result of the contents of a child’s lunch box.”
Gray told TheBlaze that the inspection at the school does not sound like one that would take place as part of the Child Care Food Program.
The letter also cited a Florida regulation that if a child care facility did not provide meals, it would need to make other arrangements with parents or legal guardians for nutritional food. That said, this regulation doesn’t seem to mean that if a facility provides food that home-brought meals are therefore not allowed.
“Shoot me, I really wanted to provide healthy meals,” Kathryn Sutherin, who owns the facility with her husband, told the news station, rolling her eyes in surprise to some of the parents’ backlash to the letter.
“This is not to stop a parent who’s packing a healthy meal,” Sutherin said later. “It’s to stop the parent who’s putting marshmallows in with the Sour Patch Kids and that’s all they want their child to have for lunch.”
Sutherin with Kids ‘R’ Kids did not return TheBlaze’s request for comment.
Charlene Taylor, director of Kids ‘R’ Kids corporate communications, told TheBlaze in an email that each facility owner can set its own lunch policies, but all packed and provided meals are required to meet federal food guidelines.
Taylor added that if a packed meal doesn’t meet these guidelines that the facility should provide the missing components.
Watch WOFL’s report:
“I would have had more respect if she stated her exact reasoning for it instead of putting us in a position to think it was DCF and DOH requirements,” Carreira said.
That’s why on Monday, Carreira defied the packed lunch ban and sent Abigail with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and cheese puffs.
“We’re parents, we do know better … what our daughter likes to eat and doesn’t like to eat,” Carreira said.
To those who scoff at parents who cater to picky palates, Carreira said he and his wife do what they can to “trick” Abigail into eating foods she doesn’t necessarily like, but in the end “the most important thing is that she’s eating.”
Parents aren’t the only ones frustrated with some school lunch requirements. Some schools themselves are balking against new federal nutrition requirements, saying they’re expensive and hard to put in place. Some officials have gone so far as to ask Congress and the Agriculture Department to roll back some of the standards.
“The regulations are so prescriptive, so it’s difficult to manage not only the nutrition side of your businesses but the business side of your business,” Becky Domokos-Bays of Alexandria City Public Schools said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Front page image via Shutterstock
This story has been updated to add more information.