You may have read the recent article that has quickly gone viral about a Manitoba mother who was fined $10 and her children provided a grain supplement of Ritz brand crackers by her daycare facility due to their lunch falling short of meeting the Manitoba Government's Early Learning and Child Care lunch regulations outlining a balanced meal. You can find the original article HERE.

The reasoning behind it was that the lunch consisted of roast beef, potatoes, carrots, an orange and a milk but, was lacking a grain and under provincial guidelines did not meet the criteria for a "balanced" meal. The daycare in question has since ceased their policy to fine parents for the supplemented meal items but, the policy still stands in MB that each meal should consist of 1 milk & alternative item, 1 meat & alternative item, 1 grain and 2 fruits/vegetables. While the provincial government has responded to the incident stating that daycare providers need not take the Canada Food Guide so literally, the standard is still there.

From my point of view the Canada Food Guide itself is fairly useless and lacking relevance considering the amount of contrast in what a balanced meal actually consists of in our modern day society due to allergies, dietary restrictions, food preferences, various moral standards and vast cultural diversity. As for the policy, although the premise is to ensure that children have well balanced meals, the interpretation of it can still result in nutrition taking a back seat. The food guide itself is far too general for anyone lacking the foundation of nutrition knowledge and those who have more than an elementary understanding of nutrition are not using the guide anyway. The policy also contradicts the Canada Food Guide recommendations by stating that each meal must be "balanced" however in doing so, preschool and young school age kids would be exceeding the recommended servings of 1 milk and 1 meat throughout the day if they were to consume them at every meal.

In the article the mother makes a valid point that although her meal was lacking an item from the "grain" food group she could've provided much less nutritious options that would've met the provincial standard for a balanced meal. I decided to analyze (in approximation) the meal that was provided by her versus a meal that is more typical of a North American diet but, meets the "balanced meal guideline.

Lunch #1 - 3oz roast beef, 1/2 cup mashed potato made with milk/butter, 1/2 cup cooked carrots, 1 cup 2% milk and 1 small orange:

This meal has a nicely balanced macro-nutrient range consisting of 42% carbs, 25% fat and 33% protein. It provides an appropriate amount of calories for an active child (ages 4-8) per meal and contains every single essential vitamin and mineral with some like the B vitamin spectrum being more than adequate. This meal also provides more than 1/4 of daily dietary fiber requirements which is imperative to blood glucose stabilization, intestinal health, prevention of many diseases and generally lacking in many school age diets. It is low in sodium and the sugars are naturally occurring and minimal when you factor that in. Also, it should be noted that the vitamins and minerals present in this meal are naturally found in the food provided and aside from the milk are not synthetically added in the fortification process typical in processed foods. Although there is no food included from the grain group this meal is more than sufficient in dietary fiber and carbohydrates. This meal does not fit the standard for a "balanced" meal according to the MB government.

Lunch #2 - 10 Ritz brand crackers, 1 cup 100% pure apple juice, 1/2 cup cucumber slices (without peel), 10 small peperoni slices, 2 processed cheese slices:

This meal is more typical of what is often found in lunch bags across the country. The food is highly palatable to children and requires minimal preparation. The macro-nutrients in this meal have a less favorable balance with over 40% coming from fat and only 13% from protein. The carbohydrate range is similar to the first meal, however this meal is comprised mostly of refined carbohydrates (sugar). The calorie content is identical in both meals yet the essential vitamins and minerals are far less present in this example. It should be noted that the vitamins and minerals in this meal are mostly synthetic and added during the processing of the food (aside from the cucumber slices). This meal has more than double the amount of sodium and only 1/3 the amount of beneficial dietary fiber even though it contains 2 servings of grains (5 crackers constitutes as 1 serving). It has less than 1/2 of the amount of protein than the first meal and is only providing 5 extra grams of carbohydrates with the addition of 2 grain servings. The sugar content of this meal nearly doubles the recommended daily amount for a child 4-8 years old to which much of it is added sugars...often the case in processed food. This meal would fit the standard for a "balanced" meal according to the MB government.

The solution to ensuring our children are provided with nutritious meals on a day-to-day basis is not to blindly follow or interpret a guide predominately influenced by the food industry giants nor is it to expect early childhood caregivers/educators to monitor, adhere to or correct shortcomings by an extremely generalized policy. It is in the education of parents and guardians how to select whole, unprocessed and unrefined foods for their children that will accommodate their personal lifestyle, cultural traditions as well as individual dietary and budget constraints.

- Sarah