Family Health|Food and Nutrition|Healthy Food Choices|Kids and Teens|Prevention and Wellness
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School Lunches: Helping Your Child Make Healthy Choices

It is important to help your child form healthy eating habits from a young age. Teach your child what types of foods are healthy. This will give them confidence to make good choices. Set a strong example at home. This will affect the choices they make now and in the future. Talk to your child about the importance of eating a healthy lunch. It provides them with enough energy to learn and be active.

Path to improved health

School lunches are designed to provide healthy food options for children. To see the nutrition information for lunches offered by your child’s school, check out the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service National School Lunch Program (NSLP). Many school districts across the country have changed their school lunch programs to meet the USDA’s nutrition standards.

The NSLP promotes nutrition standards that:

  • Offer fruits and vegetables each day.
  • Increase whole-grain food options.
  • Offer only fat-free or low-fat milk options.
  • Serve proper food portions that meet students’ calorie needs.
  • Reduce saturated fats, trans fats, and sodium.

Students can choose from several appealing healthy options. Some schools include choices like vegetarian entrees or a salad bar.

You may decide to pack your child’s lunch instead of having them eat what the school provides. This may be a better option, especially if your child is a picky eater or has special dietary needs. Be sure to include a variety of your child’s favorite healthy foods. For example, you could pack fresh fruit, baked chips or pretzels, or fresh vegetables with salsa or a low-calorie dip. You might want to pack your child’s lunch the night before so that you don’t run short on time in the morning. If you’re in a hurry, you may be tempted to toss in prepackaged foods and unhealthy options.

It’s important to keep your child’s lunch at a safe temperature. Check to see if your child’s school offers lunch refrigeration. If not, pack items that do not require refrigeration. Or pack items that can be kept cold with an ice pack. Some items, such as drinks and yogurts, can be frozen ahead of time and safely thaw in the lunch box. Use a thermos for hot foods.

Things to consider

In addition to lunches, some schools offer breakfast or snack programs. This is helpful for children who may not get enough to eat at home. Kids who start the day with a good meal will make healthier choices throughout the day. These meals may be served in the cafeteria or in classrooms. You can inquire with your child’s school.

There are several things you can do if you are concerned about your child’s food choices at school. Review the school menu with them each week. Find out which days they would like to eat lunch at school. Talk to your child about which foods and drinks are healthy options. The school district may provide menus and nutrition information on its website. You can look at this with your child, so they are more informed.

When to see the doctor

Contact your doctor if you think your child is malnourished or has any food intolerance. You should also contact your doctor if you believe your child is overweight. Your doctor can help you create a healthy eating plan for your child. They may refer you to a dietician or a counselor if they suspect a problem.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • Do you recommend school lunches or packed lunches?
  • What should I do if my child has food allergies?
  • How will I know if my child is not getting proper nutrients from school lunch?
  • What else can I do to ensure my child makes healthy food choices?


United States Department of Agriculture: National School Lunch Program

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