A Manitoba mother was shocked to learn that she had been fined $10 by her daycare for not packing a ‘balanced’ lunch for her children.

Kristen Bartkiw, a mother of three from Rossburn Man., thought she had sent her children to daycare with a nutritional lunch consisting of leftover roast beef, potatoes, carrots, an orange and milk.

When her children, five-year-old Logan and three-year-old Natalie, returned home from Little Cub’s Den daycare, she found a note from daycare staff informing Bartkiw that she had failed to pack grains in her children’s lunch. The note said staff had given her children Ritz crackers as a supplement.

They also fined Bartkiw $10 and informed parents that if they failed to provide their children with a “balanced meal” – as defined by the Canadian Food Guide -- they would be charged $5 per child for each missing item.

According to Manitoba Early Learning and Child Care regulations, daycares must ensure that children are given a milk product, a meat, a grain and two servings of fruit and vegetables in their lunch. If a child is missing a food group, the daycare must provide a supplement.

Bartkiw says she is frustrated with the unrealistic guidelines that parents are forced to follow.

“It was just frustrating that we have to keep fighting this battle when you’re sending your kids perfectly good food but it doesn’t meet this really specific, kind of nit-picky requirements,” she told CTV Winnipeg.

“I think that I’m doing everything by the books and it was like, ‘Oh come on, seriously?’” Bartkiw added.

Others have argued that giving children a Ritz cracker, a snack which contains roughly 15 calories per cracker, is not a particularly healthy substitute for a grain.

Lisa Ruscica, a nutrition expert, says there are many other grains the daycare could have given the children instead of crackers.

“Whole grain brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat pasta, even a slice of whole wheat bread would have been a better alternative than a couple of Ritz crackers,” she said.

A representative from the Manitoba government said that while it is important for parents pack healthy lunches for their children, fining parents for failing to provide a particular food group is not the best way to follow guidelines.

"Charging for Ritz crackers is ridiculous and unacceptable. Child-care centres have nutritious food on hand that can be provided to children, but they can't charge parents for it."

Bartkiw says the daycare has since dropped the strict policy because the guidelines were too difficult for parents to follow. The daycare has chosen to adopt a hot lunch program which Bartkiw says she approves.

With a report from CTV Winnipeg’s Alesia Fieldberg