Check your daycare's lunch menu carefully...Commentary

The Child Care Food Program is a federally funded program offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Through the program, licensed child-care homes are reimbursed for providing children in their care with meals that meet federal requirements.

Training is mandatory, but if providers are still serving such unforgettable lunches as spaghetti, French fries, bread and beans, the program isn't working.

A child's plate should meet certain standards, but often as not it doesn't, not because the bottom line requirements aren't there, but because the lunches are unpalatable and don't teach anything but avoidance. But you judge these lunches:

An ounce of kidney beans straight from the can, a ¼ cup of green beans, a half slice of white bread and a hard boiled egg - sort of makes you swallow hard, doesn't it?

A slice of cheese, an ounce of crackers, a quarter apple and a tablespoon of raisins.

½ a peanut butter sandwich and cheese, applesauce and green beans. There's a stunner!

"Well what," shrieked a family provider a few years ago, "Goes with pizza if not French fries?" Describing fresh fruit and its advantages met with hostility.

If eligible to participate in Child Care Food Program or CCFP, the licensed child-care homes and centers will receive reimbursements for two meals and one snack per child, per day. That means the cheaper the meal, the greater the profit.

That's not the point of the program. The point of the program is to insure that children who eat most of what they eat outside the home are actually getting what they need and that's where parents come in. Parents need to ask: What did my child eat today? The answer should be posted someplace.

And once you find out, ask: Would I eat that if I were visiting my child's all day center or family home? And how about the provider - did she eat it?

A child's health and nutrition is a parent's responsibility, and the best way of knowing what a child is eating is to ask, to see first hand and to look at the menu posted. They should match. If they don't there's a huge problem.

The problem extends to the idea behind the program: feeding children as a group should balance what they should eat with what they will eat. So every day the menu planner actually serves something really desirable and something eh - take it or leave it - but nutritionally sound so that children will at least be able to say they tried it.

In our lives, we know there are dress occasions and leisure occasions; it's the same with food. There are roasts with all the trimmings, and then there are grilled cheese sandwiches, pizza and hot dogs. Children should have both every week so there is learning about food, occasions and possibilities.

Monday, if we serve a favorite like spaghetti, that's the day to add a really interesting salad with all the trimmings.  Add good substantial bread, and some fresh fruit and a cup of milk, and that will complete the meal.

Tuesday might be baked pork roast - a little formal perhaps so tone it down with French fries, applesauce and green beans with an extra of cold carrots and dip.

Wednesday might be grilled cheese sandwiches - a favorite, so add cold broccoli, carrots and cauliflower and dip, and grapes and that cup of milk.

Thursday, if we serve baked chicken, then we might include brown rice, corn and oranges, bread and milk.

On Friday, pizza, apple slices, bananas, raisins and a simple salad and milk.

These are not difficult lunches to make or serve; they teach children about food, and they teach children that there are balances even at the dinner table. But this won't happen if parents don't take notice and make demands. It's your right as a parent who is buying childcare. It's part of the deal.