Home-cooked roast beef, carrots, potatoes, milk and an orange. It's a made-in-Manitoba lunch that elicited international headlines last week from media outlets, including CNN and London's Daily Mail.
The story starts with Rossburn mother Kristen Bartkiw, who packed her children just those foods for lunch, knowing that she was sending them to school with a fairly nutritious meal.
But her kids' daycare didn't think so.
Instead, they issued her a $10 fine — and a notice that the school supplemented their lunch with Ritz crackers to act as a "grain," what the daycare deemed the "missing" food group.
Yes. Ritz crackers — the self-proclaimed "rich, flaky, melt in your mouth" boxed snack invented in the 1930s, before the public had much consciousness about eating to ward off disease and prolong life.
Ritz crackers are loaded with blood pressure-raising sodium, artery-clogging saturated fat and white flour, the result of grain that has been stripped of its nutrients and left virtually fibre-less. Sugar is also on Ritz's ingredient list.
The notice to Bartkiw explained the provincially licensed day care is required to supplement lunches that do not meet recommendations in Canada's Food Guide.
Meals, it says, are required to contain one serving of milk, one serving of meat, two servings of fruits and/or vegetables and one serving of grain products.
Ritz crackers technically count as a grain in Canada's Food Guide, the federal government's healthy-eating manifesto.
A spokeswoman with Manitoba's Family Services branch told the Free Press last week the Rossburn daycare was following the province's Manitoba's Early Learning and Child Care Community Child Care Standards Act, which follows Canada's Food Guide.
She said since 1986, the province has ruled that licensed child-care centres need to ensure children have nutritious meals and snacks by following the guide.
"The whole purpose was to make sure kids had good nutrition and balanced meals and obviously common sense should prevail in any of those situations," she said, noting the food guide also refers to nutrition "over the course of the day."
Bartkiw's story was brought to light last week — a year after it happened — because of Ottawa physician Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, an obesity specialist who reportedly posted the information on his blog after Bartkiw sent it to him.
Freedhoff is a vocal critic of Canada's Food Guide.
Bartkiw's story (which Freedhoff told in his blog) brings many issues to the table.
The first: Does Canada's Food Guide — in its current format — truly promote healthy eating? Or is it confusing and misguided? The document does ask us to consume up to 10 fruits and veggies daily. But at the same time, it counts apple juice as a serving of fruit, which is the equivalent of an injection of sugar into the bloodstream.
The guide also asks us to consume up to eight servings of grains daily. That could mean eight slices of bread or four cups of rice.
Millions of Canadian adults have Type 2 diabetes, a disease usually brought on by unhealthy food choices and excess weight. Kids are now getting this once-adult disease. The federal government had declared a supposed war on Type 2 diabetes, a condition that can narrow arteries, cause blindness and lead to limb amputations.
People with Type 2 diabetes need to lower their blood sugars through food intake if they want to avoid serious health complications. Juice and an abundance of grains do the opposite of that — they raise blood sugar levels dramatically.
Another question: Do daycare workers understand good nutrition? And who should teach it to them?
What role do registered dietitians play in promoting Canada's Food Guide? The Registered Dietitians of Canada actively promote the guide and its grain requirements. Although there are many individual dietitians who don't wholeheartedly agree with everything in the guide, does their professional regulating body allow them to deviate from it?
The answers to these questions and more will appear here in the weeks to come.
Does your child's daycare have a nutrition program? Share your experiences with Shamona at firstname.lastname@example.org.