Mother fined for unbalanced school lunch

Ritz crackers
Ritz crackers 

A Canadian mother of two was fined by her local daycare for sending her children to school with homemade leftovers that didn’t tick off the required ‘grain’ component to their lunch.

Kristen Bartkiw packed what she thought was a well-rounded nutritious meal for her children, five-year-old Logan and three-year-old Natalie. But the leftover roast beef, potatoes, carrot, milk and oranges were deemed unbalanced by the daycare and supplemented with Ritz crackers to satisfy the missing grain required by Canada food guidelines.

Bartkiw learnt of the supplemented crackers when her children returned home with an empty lunchbox containing the fine of $10 in December 2012, according to the Weighty Matters nutritional blog, who made the story public this week.

The note sent home to Kristen Bartkiw.
The note sent home to Kristen Bartkiw. 

Canada food guidelines state that children’s school lunches must consist of one milk, one meat, one grain, and two fruits or vegetables to be deemed a healthy lunch. While potatoes are a carbohydrate, they are not a grain.

The food guide lists bread, bagels, flat breads, cooked rice, bulgar or quinoa, cereal, pasta or coucous as appropriate ‘grain’ choices. Oddly enough, crackers aren’t listed. Perhaps it has something to do with the 6.5g of fat and 300 milligrams of sodium in about five Ritz crackers.

But herein lays the problem with the current system, according to a written comment by Bartkiw on Weighty Matters. Had she packed her children a “microwave Kraft Dinner and a hot dog, a package of fruit twists, a Cheestring, and a juice box” their lunch would have ticked all the boxes – in spite of the fact that her homemade lunch was the healthier option.

“They have certain legislation that they have in place where you have to follow these food groups, but it doesn’t matter how processed the foods are or if they’re junk food … so Ritz crackers count as a grain,” said Bartkiw in an interview with MetroNews.

Although she can laugh about it now, Bartkiw was understandably angry at the time.

“I phoned the daycare worker and said ‘you know, potatoes, surely I can get away with this,’ and they didn’t actually end up charging me the $10.


“But it was just the principle of the thing, that it was not considered a healthy lunch that I found ridiculous.”

Nutritionist, dietitian, and mother Dr Joanna McMillan, agrees with Bartkiw and thinks it is ludicrous that a child would be given a Ritz cracker in an attempt to make their lunch more nutritional but she could see the same problem arising here if we were to adopt a similar policy.

"I think the Australian new guidelines are much better than we used to have, although if the same notion was applied where every section has to be included in one meal, then there could be the same outcome," says Dr Joanna.

"That is the first problem here – the guidelines are for the total diet and not every meal. To insist that a grain food be in the lunch meal is crazy."

While Australia's system has come a long way, Dr Joanna has simplified the current guidelines for her own family and clients' use.

"I confess I don’t use the official Australian Plate – I prefer to use my own much simpler version. The key difference is that I bunch together carbohydrate-rich foods and I put a big emphasis on the quality of that carb food – advising low GI, wholegrain (for grain foods), fibre rich and nutrient dense. So were the school to be using my plate the child’s lunch would have been good as the potato was her carb-food. There was no need for a grain as well," she says.

Since the incident Bartkiw's Canadian province has adopted a hot lunch program to encourage parents to send a more balanced lunch to school with their kids – which she says is a much better alternative.

What lunch box guidelines or restrictions have been enforced in your preschool and are they good or bad? Leave your comment below or join the conversation on the Essential Kids forums.