A Manitoba mom is steamed after she packed lunches for her children in daycare and was slapped with a $10 fine for not including grains in the meal.

Kristen Bartkiw said the Rossburn area daycare supplemented her children's meals with Ritz crackers and sent her children home with a note.

"I'm not against Ritz crackers on principle," she said. "To have them once in a while is not the end of the world. But it's just the idea that, according to their regulations, and this comes from the Canada Food Guide, Ritz crackers are considered a grain and the Canada Food Guide doesn't really distinguish between natural, real foods and heavily processed foods like crackers."

Bartkiw, who used to be on the board of her daycare, said the guidelines were implemented after the daycare director sounded the alarm about children showing up with inadequate lunches.

"They were sending stuff like just a Pizza pop, like every day for lunch. And no fruits, no vegetables," she said.

Lunch box note

The note sent to Kristen Bartkiw outlines what she provided in the lunch meal how it was supplemented with the crackers, leading to a $10 charge. (Courtesy Kristen Bartkiw)

Bartkiw said the province requires licensed child care centres serving a child's meal to include at least one serving of grains, milk products, meat, and fruits and vegetables, or alternatives, in accordance with the Canada Food Guide.

And meals missing one of those categories must be supplemented. She said the fine for missing a category is $5 per item, per child, per day.  Bartkiw said she thought she had packed a good lunch for her two children that day.

"I had packed some leftovers, some roast beef and potatoes, some carrots, an orange and some milk," she said. "And so because technically a potato is not a grain, it's a vegetable, that's why I got my note."

She said because of their starch content, she thinks of potatoes as a grain equivalent.

"I actually phoned my daycare director the next day and said, 'You know, can I get away with this? I thought of potatoes as a grain.'"

She said the daycare dropped the fine.

But Bartkiw said parents felt the rules were overly restrictive.

"We would get these 'nasty-grams' saying 'You forgot this,''' she said.

But she admitted it worked, because she made sure to include everything, everyday.

"So it has been a good thing in terms of making sure that I get fruits and vegetables into my kids for every meal."

Bartkiw said much of the problem lies with the food guide itself.

"It's really challenging and there's a lot of misinformation out there about what's considered a healthy food," she said. "And so it's really hard for parents to distinguish and the Canada Food Guide should be giving parents better guidelines, and it's really not."

Bartkiw said this all happened about a year ago, but the story has gained traction since it was written up on a blog about obesity and weight-related issues.

She said the regulations were so difficult for the daycare to enforce, in September of this year it implemented a hot lunch program, which she said is very affordable and offers children a wide variety of foods.